Beautiful 16 month-old Alexis Mitchell died suddenly after inadvertantly drinking a toxic chemical from an old cool drink bottle.
SEDGEFIELD NEWS - The pain of losing her child is etched deep on the face of Sedgefield mother Andrea Mitchell.
This pain, like no other, will remain with her and father Elrich Grootboom of 16-month-old Alexis after they were forced to say an untimely farewell to her on Wednesday, February 18.
The tragedy that changed the lives of Andrea, Elrich and Alexis' sister Naslin (7) is one that all parents dread and one that must serve as a lesson. While visiting friends on Tuesday, February 17 with her family, young Alexis drank a toxic substance from an old cool drink bottle that was left in easy reach.
Although the substance has not yet been identified, it is believed to be a chemical used to clean ovens.
Both Andrea and Elrich did everything humanly possible to save their daughter, but in vain, as Alexis died in the George Hospital on Wednesday, February 18 around 00:15, mere hours after ingesting the toxin.
"She was her father's everything," sobbed Andrea. "She was our everything. Always busy, smiling and dancing and loving life. When she was still little she would pull herself up and hang onto the cot slats while she would bounce to the music. She just loved to dance," said Andrea with tears streaming down her face.
Elrich's inconsolable pain lay like a cloak over him. He was unable to speak about his beloved daughter, constantly rubbing his hands over his head as if the action would help him make sense of the horrific accident.
Through their pain both Andrea and Elrich are hoping that the terrible loss of Alexis will act as a warning to all not to decant toxic chemicals into old juice and/or cool drink bottles. Writing the name of the chemicals on the bottle will make no difference as children only see the bottle and are unable to read the label.
Sedgefield pharmacist and friend of the family was left horrified after hearing of the tragedy. She, including Alexis' parents, want the public to be aware of the dangers of decanting toxins and said, "People must be very careful when decanting liquids into other plastic bottles – especially not into juice, water or cool drink bottles! It is the most dangerous thing you can do. Always keep chemicals and medicine way out of the reach of children and unsuspecting people. Educate everyone around you. It can save a life!"
Although the Red Cross Children's Hospital poison line is hundreds of kilometres away, parents are encouraged to call them if they suspect their child has ingested any poisonous substance.
Bianca Carls, general specialist, EMS directorate and Western Cape government health spokesperson stressed, "If your baby, toddler or child has consumed, inhaled or is affected in any other way by a substance (from detergents, to plants to medication etc) that could be toxic, phone the Red Cross Children's Hospital poison line on 021-689-5227. Expert advice on the substance and its side effects will be given as well as advice on what to do. The poison line is a 24-hour service linked to the hospital's emergency services."
For the residents of Sedgefield and surrounds, the Lions Club Sedgefield emergency vehicle is readily available on 079-598-7795 to assist with emergencies. This vehicle was funded by the Lions Club and the then Business Circle in Sedgefield and handed over to the municipality to use as a rescue vehicle in Sedgefield.
"Our emergency vehicle is a first response vehicle. An ambulance or emergency services will still need to be called out, but the paramedics are there to stay with the patient and stabilise them until the emergency vehicle arrives," explained Debbie Olivier, Lions Club Sedgefield president.
Alexis' funeral will take place on Saturday, February 27. Mourners are asked to gather at the home of Andrea and Elrich (179 Fynbosch Avenue) at 09:00. The funeral will take place at 10:00 in the Sedgefield Laerskool, Smutsville school hall.
Should any members of the public wish to provide healthy meals for the family while they are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy, these may be dropped of with Belinda Hobson at the Sedgefield Information (Sedgefield branch of Knysna & Partners). Donations towards the funeral costs may be dropped off with Hobson as well.
Keeping children safe from poisonous substances
Nadia Ferreira, Western Cape department of health for Eden district, provided several preventative tips to ensure children are safe from ingesting poisonous substances. "Keep medicines (including herbal and homeopathic medications) and potentially dangerous household products locked away and out of sight and reach of children.
Remember that children are curious and persistent, so even a high shelf is not safe and even items that seem harmless, such as mouthwash, can be extremely dangerous if ingested in large quantities by children."
She advised that the public check their handbags for potential hazards such as medications or cosmetics and keep it out of reach of children. "Make sure all products are in their original containers. Never store potentially harmful products in bottles, containers or cups used for food or drinks.
Children might mistake it for cool drink," she stressed. Further, never leave containers with medication, household chemicals or any hazardous substance open or unattended when children are present. Never throw bottles of medicine in the rubbish bin. Dispose of unwanted or leftover medication by returning them to your local pharmacist.
She warned to never tell a child that medication is sweets. "This makes medication dangerously attractive at other times." Besides medication and chemicals Ferreira suggested that all button batteries and magnets are kept out of reach of children and used ones discarded safely. "Exercise extreme caution and read labels carefully when using store-bought pesticides. Always buy approved and legal products that are labelled – unlabelled products contain no information about the ingredients or manufacturers, thus placing users, children, pets and the environment at risk."
Symptoms of possible poisoning
Ferreira suggested that parents and caregivers keep an eye open for symptoms that may suggest possible poisoning: vomiting; diarrhoea; drooling; tiredness; coughing; sweating and fever; shaking; eyes rolling back in the head; and the inability to walk.