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Natasha (19) died 3 weeks after drinking caustic soda following row with her middle-aged lover

A TEENAGE girl who had a row with her middle-aged boyfriend swallowed caustic soda before enduring a three-week long death.

Tragic student Natasha Ballard (19) didn't want to kill herself, but doctors could not save her.

"Her lungs had gradually turned to concrete and they just couldn't ventilate her," said boyfriend Matthew Mullen, who is in his 50s.

Natasha, a student at Cavan Institute had been living with Matt in a cabin on the shores of Lough Sheelin.

Her heartbroken ex-partner recalled the horrific night she swallowed the poison after a petty row over a college party.

"I couldn't drive her because the fuel pump was broken in my car. The weather was terrible, and it would be more than €100 by taxi there and back, and then money for food and drink, and I just didn't have it so I had to tell her it just couldn't happen," he explained about the incident on December 19 last.

"She was pee'd off with that, and while I went for a bath I heard her going out the door. When I came back she was gone, I thought she was out with the dogs, so I got dressed and went out looking for her," Matt said.

"She was very distressed and I could see blood on her face and black foam around her mouth. I thought she had fallen and broken her teeth. Natasha couldn't talk or anything and I was ringing for help, then she scribbled 'caustic' on a piece of paper and I went to see where I kept the bottle of caustic for clearing the drains, but it was gone.

"There had only been a very small amount in it, but the doctors later told me that it burns through you like acid and the fumes badly affect the lungs. With the weather being so bad it took more than 40 minutes for the ambulance to get here."

South African native Natasha had come to Cavan for three months holidays in March 2010 but chose to stay and enrolled at Cavan Institute to study computers. In June she met Matthew, an area warden who lives in a cabin on the shores of Lough Sheelin near Mountnugent, and started a relationship with him.

Matt told the Herald how he was blessed to have found love.

"She seemed to like the quiet life, and somehow we just clicked. It was like she could almost finish my sentences for me, and I could finish hers," Matt explained. "You don't expect that to be happening to you at that age."

She died in hospital on Jauary 2 with her parents, who had flown in from South Africa, holding her hands and Matt holding her head.

An inquest returned an open verdict.