Pictured: Ashleigh Chapman and her son, Heath
A teenage mum has revealed the heartbreaking moment she realised her ‘happy’ little boy’s innocent cough was really the sound of him choking to death on a balloon.
Thursday, April 8, started out as a regular day for Ashleigh Chapman and her 11-month-old son Heath at home in Mount Warrigal, south of Sydney.
They played together in the morning before the 19-year-old fed Heath – who was just 10 days shy of his first birthday – and went to the kitchen to eat lunch.
Having heard what she thought was a normal cough from the other room, she assumed nothing was amiss.
But when she heard a second sound and went to check on Heath – she found him unconscious on the floor – having choked on a mostly-deflated balloon.
‘My world got taken away from me within minutes, how am I suppose to keep living without my baby?,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I didn’t know how quickly it could happen and once a balloon is inhaled it’s nearly impossible to remove it from someone’s windpipe without surgery,’ she warned.
Ashleigh Chapman (pictured) is 19 and had one child with her partner Jesse. Their son, Heath, died last Thursday
Little Heath (pictured) was nearing his first birthday at the time of the tragedy – promoting his devastated mum to issue a warning to parents
She is now desperately trying to raise awareness for other parents, with balloons commonly used for party decorations and sensory activity.
The mum frantically started checking the youngster’s airways when she found him but couldn’t find anything, and quickly called triple-0 and her partner – Heath’s father Jesse McLean.
Ms Chapman’s home soon filled with paramedics, police and doctors who soon rushed the youngster to hospital.
Doctors tried to revive Heath for an hour, but he was eventually pronounced dead.
‘I heard a cough. Just a normal cough. I let it slide,’ she told 7 News about the tragedy.
Ms Chapman (pictured, left and right, with Heath and her partner Jesse McLean) is now trying to raise awareness about the dangers of balloons and wants larger warning labels on packets
‘Then two or three minutes later, I heard another cough, like a struggle cough.’
When the young mother was later told her son was dead, she said: ‘I just dropped.’
‘I didn’t believe it. I said, “don’t tell me that”. I broke down.’
Ms Chapman spent some time with the boy’s body after he died, but she said it didn’t really sink in until she saw him motionless the next day.
All she wanted to do was give Heath a cuddle, or to wake him and take him home, but instead she was faced with funeral plans and decisions about urns – describing her life as a ‘living hell’.
The youngster (pictured) had put a balloon which was mostly deflated in his mouth and choked to death
Pictured: Baby Heath with his parents, Jesse and Ashleigh. Their son’s death left them devastated
An autopsy later revealed a balloon, which was not completely deflated, was lodged in his windpipe.
Ms Chapman blames herself.
‘We decided to open them one day and we blew them up. I’m kicking myself that they were there,’ she said.
She is now trying to raise awareness about the dangers of balloons and wants larger warning labels on packets.
Ms Chapman remembered Heath as a ‘bright and bubbly’ baby who made everyone’s day.
Ms Chapman remembered Heath as a ‘bright and bubbly’ baby who made everyone’s day
She said she loved being his mother and is grateful for all the memories he gave her.
A Go Fund Me has been set up by a family friend to help the family pay for the funeral.
‘We have no words to describe the grief that their family is experiencing right now, and many friends and family have asked for how they can help at this difficult time,’ the fundraiser read.
‘In the weeks and months ahead, they will miss their child terribly and will be in need of love, compassion, time and understanding. Consideration of making a small contribution can help lift some burden.’
The devastated mum said she has been inundated with messages from other mothers, thanking her for bringing the dangers of balloons to their attention.
‘People don’t really think how dangerous they can be and how quickly it all can happen,’ she explained.
‘When you think about all the places that have balloons it’s crazy.
‘For example; at carnivals they have clowns there making balloon animals and while they are making the animal if the balloon pops they just grab another balloon and continue without picking up the broken balloon.’
Heath (pictured) was remembered by his mum as a happy little boy who never failed to make everyone around him smile