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Coroner seeks popcorn ban at creches in wake of toddler's tragic death

A TODDLER choked to death on a popcorn kernel she found at her creche, an inquest heard yesterday.

Lauren Meehan-O'Byrne was just 18 months old when she died at Temple Street Children's Hospital on March 19 last year, having never recovered from the incident five days previously.

Dublin coroner Dr Brian Farrell is calling on the HSE to ban popcorn from all pre-school facilities in the wake of the incident.

The inquest heard that some older children at the centre had watched a DVD on the Friday before the incident and they had been given popcorn.

Lauren, from Shanabooly Road, Ballynanty in Limerick, was dropped off by her mother, Emer Meehan, at the Sunshine Childcare Centre in the local St Munchin's Family Resource Centre on the morning of March 14.

Ms Meehan said she kissed Lauren goodbye and left. At around 10.40am she received a frantic call from Lauren's father, David O'Byrne, telling her to come to the centre immediately.

Lauren and a number of other infants had been making their way from the toddler room to the dining room at the creche for playtime when childcare assistant Sabrina Bennis noticed that the 18-month-old was coughing.

She patted her on the back but the cough became worse and then Lauren suddenly inhaled as though she could not breathe. Co-worker Carol Blake attempted the Heimlich manoeuvre but this did not work.

She looked into Lauren's mouth but could not see what she was choking on. She and another co-worker, Louise Grey, began CPR while awaiting the arrival of paramedics. Lauren vomited several times during the incident but was still not breathing.

Both parents were on the scene within minutes and watched as creche staff and paramedics struggled to revive Lauren.

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Paramedic Mark O'Sullivan told the court that when he arrived Lauren was unresponsive and pulseless.

Several attempts were made to clear her airway before he decided to insert a tube. This was successful and Lauren was then transferred to the Midwestern Regional Hospital in Limerick. An operation was carried out to remove a popcorn kernel, which was lodged so far down Lauren's trachea that it was not visible to the naked eye.

Lauren was transferred to Temple Street that evening. However, she had suffered extensive brain damage having been deprived of oxygen, and never recovered. She died five days later when life support was withdrawn.

Garda Bernie Leech said there were no suspicious circumstances involved in the incident, saying it was a very tragic accident.

Creche worker Ms Grey said that they had never been told not to give popcorn to the older children. The room was cleaned as usual afterwards.

Dr Farrell said that the probability was that Lauren had found a popcorn kernel in the toddler room and eaten it.

The court heard that there were currently no regulations preventing creches and pre-schools from giving popcorn to young children. HSE guidelines only recommend that snacks like popcorn are not given to children under five years old to prevent the possibility of choking.

Dr Farrell returned a verdict of accidental death.

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