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Thursday 28 August 2014

Ambulance for fatally hurt boy called off as dispatchers believed he just bumped head

Published 04/12/2013 | 02:30

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Vakaris Martinaitis who died in May 2013 from injuries sustained in a fall at the family home in the Castleredmond estate, just outside Midleton, Co Cork.
Pic Provision
Vakaris Martinaitis who died in May 2013 from injuries sustained in a fall at the family home in the Castleredmond estate, just outside Midleton, Co Cork. Pic Provision
Vakaris Martinaitis who died in May 2013 from injuries sustained in a fall at the family home in the Castleredmond estate, just outside Midleton, Co Cork.
Pic Provision
Vakaris Martinaitis who died in May 2013 from injuries sustained in a fall at the family home in the Castleredmond estate, just outside Midleton, Co Cork. Photo: Provision

AN ambulance dispatched to a Lithuanian toddler who sustained fatal head injuries was stood down because HSE call handlers understood the child had only sustained a simple bump to his head.

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Vakaris Martinaitis (2) died from head injuries sustained when he fell from an upstairs bedroom window of his parents' Cork home last May.

The toddler's father, Vidas, wept as he said he briefly left Vakaris and his daughter Agneta (8) upstairs at their Midleton home on May 6 while he went to clean the sitting room.

Minutes later, his daughter ran downstairs asking where Vakaris had gone, and looking out the front window.

The toddler had fallen out the window of the front upstairs bedroom on to the concrete path and steps.

However, a coroner's inquest has heard that Health Service Executive (HSE) dispatchers were not told the child had fallen from either a window or a height.

An emergency call was made by former All-Ireland hurling star Kevin Hennessy and his daughter Caoimhe, neighbours of Vidas and his wife Aukse.

The dispatcher who handled the call said he did not believe life-threatening injuries were involved.

"I genuinely thought that the child had suffered a simple fall. My thought at that stage was that the child had a simple fall and had just bumped his head," HSE official Richard Walsh said.

A transcript of the 999 call made indicated that Mr Walsh asked whether Vakaris could have fallen from a height.

He was not told the child had fallen from a window.

But Mr Hennesy did inform dispatchers that the child had suffered a nasty fall and was screaming in pain.

Mr Hennessy, who had first aid training, said he was concerned because he could see a swelling on the toddler's forehead.

SCREAMING

He told dispatchers he had not witnessed the fall but had stopped his car to help the Lithuanian father who was screaming for help.

"I said to the dispatcher we need an ambulance here . . . (but he said) at the moment I have nothing in the area to send you, do you understand," Mr Hennessy said.

In fact, a second HSE dispatcher, Tom Magee, had assigned the call to the Midleton-based ambulance, which had just finished an assignment in Cork city and was returning to the east Cork town.

It could have been at the scene within 18 minutes.

The inquest heard that minutes later the ambulance was stood down from the call because Vakaris' injuries were not understood by dispatchers to be life-threatening.

Mr Hennessy was instructed by dispatchers to drive the injured child to SouthDoc, a nearby GP service in Midleton.

When SouthDoc doctors examined Vakaris they immediately instructed Mr Hennessy to drive him to Cork University Hospital (CUH). Mr Hennessy drove the child, screaming in pain, to CUH with a garda motorcycle escort.

Vakaris died two days later despite emergency surgery.

The toddler was the youngest child of Lithuanian nationals Vidas and Aukse Martinaitis, who had moved to Cork for work in 2004.

The couple said they were "devastated and broken-hearted" by the tragedy but took some comfort from the fact their son's organs were donated and as a result four children benefited from life-saving transplants.

Vidas wept as he recalled how he desperately tried to help his stricken son that day.

"I loved my son very much. We had a great father-and-son relationship. Now I just have a lot of suffering and no life. I could not save my son. He was a beautiful little boy."

Aukse had gone to work on May 6 last, taking the family's only car. Vidas was at home minding their two children.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane adjourned the inquest until next Tuesday.

Ralph Riegel

Irish Independent

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