Sunday 21 January 2018

'A piece of my heart will always be broken' - Sister of bank official who died from carbon monoxide poisoning at hen party

With an inquest into the death of her sister expected later this year, Siobhan Barrett speaks to Independent.ie about the devastating impact carbon monoxide had on her family

Sisters Siobhan Barrett and Trish Russell from Co Limerick photographed holding a photo of their sister Miriam who died tragically in a bedroom in the Trident hotel, Kinsale in 2011 from carbon monoxide poisoning. Photograph: Liam Burke Press 22
Sisters Siobhan Barrett and Trish Russell from Co Limerick photographed holding a photo of their sister Miriam who died tragically in a bedroom in the Trident hotel, Kinsale in 2011 from carbon monoxide poisoning. Photograph: Liam Burke Press 22
Sisters Siobhan Barrett and Trish Russell from Co. Limerick photographed holding a photo of their sister Miriam who died tragically in a bedroom in the Trident hotel, Kinsale in 2011 from carbon monoxide poisoning. Photograph: Liam Burke Press 22
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Miriam Reidy tragically lost her life to carbon monoxide poisoning six years ago, but while time has helped the family accept what happened, it hasn't been a healer.

An inquest into the death of the young bank official is due to be reopened, with the Reidy family hoping it will lead to major safety recommendations being issued over the dangers posed by the killer gas.

The Limerick woman died after she was overcome by carbon monoxide gas in a seaside hotel as she attended her cousin's hen party in Kinsale, Co Cork in January 2011.

Her sister, Patricia, was found unconscious in the same room but was saved thanks to the efforts of paramedics.

Speaking to Independent.ie during Carbon Monoxide Week, Miriam's sister, Siobhan Barrett, described the devastating impact her death has had on the family.

"I'm just as upset today as the day I got the phone call," she said.

"Time helps you to accept that they’re gone and they’re not coming back, but there’s a piece of your heart that has been broken and it will never be healed.

"We try to get on with our lives, but it's particularly difficult when you have family occasions and she's not there. My parents celebrated 50 years of marriage last year and myself and Trish toyed with the idea of throwing a party, but my parents didn't want one as they didn't feel they'd enjoy it. It's the little things like that where you know nothing will be the same."

Cork plumber Richard Davis (46) was acquitted of manslaughter in 2014 after a Circuit Criminal Court jury found him not guilty following Miriam's death at the Trident Hotel.

Mr Davis was also found not guilty of two breaches of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005.

"As a family, we don’t carry any bitterness, our loved one is gone and nothing will ever change that," Siobhan said.

"I don’t know what the seven stages of grief are, but we have definitely gone through them all. Sometimes my 12-year-old son will ask 'do you still miss auntie Miriam'...not a day goes by that we don't think about her.

"When somebody close to you dies, it does change how you go about your daily life. You look at life differently, and realise you have to make the most of it."

Patricia and Miriam both thought they had food poisoning when they began to feel ill in their hotel room. They sent text messages to other members of the hen party to see if anyone else felt sick, but nobody did.

When Patricia was lying in bed, she heard a thud and saw Miriam had fallen onto the floor.

The one thing she remembers is she couldn’t get over how dead weight Miriam's body was when she was trying to help her up on the bed.

"Miriam was worrying about the fact she got sick and Trish was telling her not to worry about it, but it all felt like a dream it was so surreal.

"I remember the first time I stayed in a hotel after Miriam died, and I had my two boys with me, and I was thinking in a hotel you have so many people close to you, you can hear everyone walking up and down the corridor, so if anything happens, they'll be close by to help...but sadly it was too late for Miriam."

Since her sister's death, Siobhan has actively campaigned about the importance of installing carbon monoxide alarms in homes, hotels and other public buildings.

"She was just living her life like any normal person, she had plans and I suppose like all of us, she was looking forward to seeing those plans out. A testament to her personality is that her colleagues in work have kept in contact with the family over the last six years and they still come to her anniversary mass - they still miss her as much as we do.

"As an individual, she was so bubbly, a very good friend and a great sister. We miss her very much."

PhoneWatch, Ireland’s largest provider of monitored household carbon monoxide alarms, released statistics for Carbon Monoxide Week showing they are called to incidents on "average twice a week".

Carbon Monoxide Week 2017 runs from September 25 – October1. It aims to raise awareness of the dangers associated with carbon monoxide. Details of the week can be found on www.carbonmonoxide.ie.

Symptoms of poisoning

On inhalation, CO enters your bloodstream, limiting the supply of oxygen around the body, essentially starving tissue and cells.

A compound called carboxyhaemoglobin in the bloodstream is created that has a detrimental impact on the blood vessels. This can lead to swelling in the brain, causing unconsciousness and nerve damage.

Common side effects also include headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Diarrhoea, general sluggishness and flu-like symptoms can also be attributed to CO emissions.

Once caught in time, short-term exposure to the gas generally leaves no lasting damage.

However, a doctor’s visit is definitely worth it if you think you’ve been exposed at all.

What to do if your alarm goes off?

Turn off all appliances, sockets, and light switches. Open all doors and windows and step outside for some fresh air.

Phone a qualified service agent to come out to inspect and test your heating source and general residence for CO levels.

They will give you all the necessary warning and guidelines to follow until your home is given the all clear. Follow these rules.

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