'He was white and his lips blue' - Parents relive the night of their son's fatal asthma attack at age 20
Grieving mother Donna Green on how she struggled to save her son’s life when, aged just 20, he suffered a fatal attack at his home in January
Every parent's worst nightmare began for Donna and Stephen Green in the early hours of Tuesday, January 31, when their second eldest son appeared at their bedroom door struggling to breathe.
Only an hour and a half beforehand, the tall and handsome Tiernan (20) had returned from his best friend's house in Belfast at the behest of his girlfriend of seven years, Lauren.
Tiernan had intended to stay overnight in Belfast but came home to Derrymacash, outside Lurgan, after he text Lauren, at 1.30am, to ask if she minded him sleeping over at his friend's house.
"Lauren asked him would he mind coming home to bring her to get her nails done that morning, so he came home at 2am, thank God," says Donna, an articulate woman, who is remarkably composed as she recalls the harrowing chain of events.
"I'm so glad he was with us when he died, and not away from home. We were the first faces he saw when he was born and we were the last faces he saw before he died."
Tiernan was born in 1997 with asthma and eczema. The eczema disappeared over time but he never got rid of the asthma. One particularly serious attack put him in Craigavon hospital two years ago.
"He didn't use his brown inhaler enough - the doctor told him he needed to use it at night," Donna explains. "I know myself, because I'm the one that ordered them for him, that he was just using the blue one.
"He thought any time he took the brown one, he didn't see any benefits from it, whereas the blue one cleared his airways. But the brown one is preventative - it's used at night to prevent an attack during sleep.
"I think that's what happened that night, or else he was awake and it came on suddenly. I don't know."
It was 3.30am when Tiernan called out in distress to his parents. Donna and Stephen jumped out of bed immediately, Donna running to the kitchen for Tiernan's blue inhaler.
"He was puffing away on the blue one and then I ran for the brown one, but neither helped," Donna recalls. "Tiernan was standing in the hall at this stage, having an acute attack. He was white and his lips and his ears were blue.
"We called 999 and they gave us instructions but we knew he was going. The veins were standing out on his forehead; that freaked me out. Then he was falling - he's a big tall fella and we were afraid of him banging his head, so my husband brought him into the living room.
"I'll never forget him standing there," she adds, faltering slightly. "He looked into the living room mirror and said, 'I'm going to die tonight'."
Tiernan collapsed in his father's arms and Donna attempted CPR on him. A very strong and clear-minded person, she often refers to Tiernan in the present tense and speaks openly, not wanting another parent to go through what she and Stephen have.
"He just deteriorated in front of us. He was blue. I worked on him for three or four minutes before the paramedics took over. I think it took them about 10 minutes to get here from Craigavon," he says.
"They put a heart monitor on him and IV drips and worked on him for an hour," she adds. "I'm not trained in CPR, but I have a mother's instinct that there were too many hands on him, so I took over and tried my best.
"But he was too far gone. I just went into shock."
Quiet by nature but fun-loving and popular, Tiernan had been due to start work in a security firm the following week. His siblings Stefan (24), Mise-Eire (18) and Ryan (7), and his girlfriend Lauren (20) are heartbroken but managing to cope, Donna explains.
"We can feel his presence around us; a warmth, like he's helping us," she says. "Lauren is actually doing okay. They were together since they were 13 and they definitely would have ended up together.
"I believe you get the strength from somewhere, hard as it is. But I'm haunted by it; I tried so hard to keep my son alive. You think, if there's a God, then why? Why did he let him die in that horrific way? Why didn't he let me keep my son alive?
"I do believe there is something out there, something spiritual, but as for God, I don't know. I'm just angry that it was let happen."
Described at his funeral, by Fr John Byrne, as "someone who radiated love", Tiernan was buried on Friday, February 3, amidst anguished scenes at St Patrick's Church in Derrymacash, outside Lurgan.
The chapel and the local Wolfe Tone football club are just a stone's throw from the Greens' immaculate bungalow, which has framed family photographs in pride-of-place in the hall and living room.
A former pupil of St Francis Primary School and St Paul's High School, Lurgan, and a recent student at Southern Regional College in Armagh, Tiernan loved music, travel and football, having played for Sarsfields Under 16 GAA team.
At his Requiem Mass, Fr Byrne also spoke of Tiernan's love for his girlfriend, Lauren, which he described as unsurpassed.
"They were born within days of each other and they probably cried together after they were born," he said. "But they were destined to be together from they were 15 years old."
Last week, Stephen Green, who works as a lorry driver and is a tall man like his late son, spoke out on local television to warn other asthma suffers about the importance of taking their medication.
"I was holding him but you could see it in him, that he was going - his legs just gave way, and he fell," he says. "We tried so hard to bring him back, we tried everything in our capabilities. It's so cruel for asthma to take him.
"He was advised (to use the brown inhaler) but he was headstrong, you know; parents don't really have too much say in the matter."
Donna is keen to highlight the preventative steps required and, also, the potential dangers of home fragrances to asthmatics.
She says: "Plug-in fragrances need to be kept out of the house where there's asthma; scented candles, too. They're not good for the chest - Tiernan would come home and be chesty if he'd been somewhere with them. I stopped using them in our house and saw a huge difference in him.
"There also needs to be a care-plan set out to follow in the case of an acute asthma attack, so you can be prepared. You need to have the right stuff there and, most of all, asthmatics need to use their brown inhaler.
"I made sure Tiernan had everything he needed but you couldn't watch him 24/7. He was rarely in the house and then he'd be in his own room. He was told about the importance of the brown inhaler, but you know 20-year-olds - they don't take it in."
Although they're grieving deeply, Stephen and Donna are trying to keep things running as normally as possible for the family, in particular their youngest, Ryan, taking him out in the car and doing their usual shopping in Lurgan. The child would spend hours with his older brother on their PlayStation.
Donna adds: "Ryan knows Tiernan's gone away to heaven. We were lying in bed together this morning and he said 'I'm never going to see Tiernan again'. That hurts him. I know he will see him again, but maybe not for another 60 years. I'm just so glad we can still feel his presence beside us."
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