A coroner has issued a warning after a five-year-old child suffocated when he stuck his head in a helium balloon while trying to pretend to be a dinosaur in a bid to please his nieces.
Karlton Noah Donaghey had been playing in the garden of his family’s home in Dunston, Tyne and Wear on June 29 last year before going inside when his mother found him unconscious in the living room ten minutes later.
His mother Lisa said she believes her son had tried to climb into the dinosaur balloon – which was ‘the same size as him’ – to wear as a costume to surprise his family, but he tragically died in hospital six days later to helium poisoning. .
At an inquest in Newcastle, Assistant Coroner James Thompson said the death was “every parent’s nightmare” and that he would be writing to Public Health to see what can be done to raise awareness.
Emergency services from a neighbor who was a nurse, along with medics from the North East Ambulance Service and the Great North Air Ambulance Service, kept him alive after the accident, but he had suffered a hypoxic brain injury and died six days later.
Karlton Noah Donaghey (pictured), died on June 29, 2022, days after putting his head in a helium balloon
Karlton was playing in the garden of his family’s Dunston home on June 23 last year when his mother found him unconscious in the living room 10 minutes after he went inside.
At the end of the inquest at Newcastle Crown Court, Assistant Coroner Thompson said he would be writing to Newcastle City Council’s public health department asking it to consider what can be done to raise awareness of the risks associated with helium balloons.
Karlton had bought the big green balloon as a treat during a trip to The Hoppings fair in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Lisa and his dad Karl Donaghey, 35, on June 17.
“I just want everyone to understand that Karlton was an incredibly precious boy,” his mother Lisa said.
‘For me and Karl, he was our only child and he was valuable to everyone he met. This tragic accident has taken him from everyone who loved him.”
Lisa, who is also mum to Kaitlin, 25, Joe, 20, and Will, 15, said the family had been enjoying the warm weather in the garden when the accident happened.
Kaitlin and her eight-month-old twin daughters, Renàe and Tiànna Hodgson, had come to visit.
When I came in, he was lying on the floor with the balloon above his head and neck. It was a dinosaur balloon the same size as him.
‘I think he put himself in the balloon to go out as a dinosaur and surprise his nieces. I pulled the balloon off him and screamed.
“I think I carried him to the patio door. As a mother I knew he was gone, he was unresponsive. His eyes were wide open and he was pale.”
The inquest heard how pathologists Dr Srinivas Annavarapu and Dr Louise Mulcahy agreed that Karlton’s cause of death had been hypoxic brain injury due to the helium he inhaled from a balloon which displaced the oxygen in his lungs. Hypoxic brain injury occurs as a result of a restriction of oxygen supply to the brain.
On the day of the accident, Kaitlin and Lisa’s neighbor, Amiee Morrison, performed CPR on Karlton until paramedics arrived at the home.
Lisa said: ‘I just collapsed on the grass outside. I must have screamed and screamed and screamed. I couldn’t bear to come back in. My little boy was being worked on. I was numb with fear and anxiety.
“Amiee took over from Kaitlin and she didn’t give up. She worked and worked and worked on my boy until the ambulance arrived and they took over. She was just fantastic and I am so grateful. It took four minutes for the ambulance to arrive, but it felt like four hours.”
Karlton was airlifted to hospital and Lisa met him there, after he was transported in a police car with blue lights.
Lisa said she did not leave Karlton while he was in intensive care at Great North Children’s Hospital.
She said he started having seizures and doctors said there was nothing they could do to save him. Karlton’s ventilator was turned off and he died on June 29.
At the inquest, Chief Inspector Laura Defty, of Northumbria Police, said: ‘This was a tragic accident and the parents were in no way at fault. These balloons can be widely purchased, not only at the Hoppings, but also at other places.
“I don’t think anything could have been done to prevent or prevent this from happening.”
Karlton (pictured with father Karl and mother Lisa) had been playing in a paddling pool with his cousins on the early evening of the day he died before deciding to go inside to change. Inside, he had a helium balloon in the shape of a dinosaur placed over his head and face
Assistant Coroner Thompson said of Karlton’s cause of death: ‘He suffered asphyxiation due to his head being covered by the balloon and inhaling the helium which displaced the oxygen in his lungs.’
Mr Thompson continued: ‘Karlton, on the balance of probability, out of curiosity or even in search of a moment of pleasure, placed a balloon filled with helium over his head and face.
“He did this while he was alone and absent from a family gathering. He did this when he went to get dressed. This allowed the helium gas to replace the oxygen in his lungs.’
The coroner explained that the evidence showed that the lack of oxygen had caused serious brain damage.
He continued: “I agree with the police that this was a tragic accident. Karlton was just a young boy with a curious mind, looking for new experiences and dare I say: some fun.’
Mr Thompson found Karlton’s death was accidental, adding: ‘What I want to say before I talk to Mum and Dad is that it is clear, as the Detective Chief Inspector noted, that these balloons are routinely widely available and are for sale everywhere. I have a duty as a coroner if I believe that there are actions that could avoid the risks of future deaths, to write a report addressing those risks.
‘I will be writing to Newcastle City Council, to the Department of Health, to see what can be done to raise public awareness of the risks of helium balloons.’
Mr Thompson said he hoped the press would help by reporting on the risks of helium balloons in this case.
Speaking to Karlton’s family, the coroner said: ‘I want to make it clear that no one could have predicted what would happen to Karlton that day. And it’s every parent’s nightmare what happened to Karlton.”