• trigger warning – deals with child loss •
Stacey Rodgers was just 15 when she discovered she was pregnant, and 16 when her son Dominic was born.
They grew up together, more friends than mother and son. ‘We were so close,’ she explains. ‘We just loved each other’s company.’
By the time he was 10, Dominic was football obsessed, with big brown eyes and a cheeky grin. ‘No one could ever stay angry at him,’ Stacey remembers, ‘he got away with everything.’
It was a normal Wednesday night in 2004 when he headed upstairs to play his with his Playstation and to watch a new football programme.‘Muuuuuuuuuum!’ she heard him call. ‘This is NOT about football!’
She opened his bedroom to see the saucy soap opera Footballers’ Wives playing. ‘Bedtime,’ she laughed. ‘Love you, see you in the morning.’
THE HOUSE WAS STILL AND SILENT
When she woke the next day she immediately knew something was wrong.
Dominic was always up before her, noisily getting ready for school, but the house was still and silent. He’s messing about, she thought – it was a favourite joke of his to play hide and seek. But when opened his bedroom door she could see he was still lying in bed.
‘Come on Dominic,’ she called, ‘time to get up for school.’
She reached out to give gently shake him awake, but quickly pulled her hand back; his skin felt strange, cold.
It had been a chilly night, and her first thought was that he’d somehow frozen. She knew that didn’t really make sense, but her brain just couldn’t work out what had happened; she’d left him healthy and safe just a few hours before, and no one had been in the room since.
She turned him over to see vomit around his mouth. ‘Dominic, wake up,’ she repeated, panic turning her body cold. Fingers trembling, she dialled 999. ‘It’s my son,’ she cried. ‘He’s not moving or breathing.’
The emergency operator began telling her how to perform CPR. At one point she thought she felt Dominic’s pulse, but it was just her own heart – beating so hard she could feel it through her whole body.
It felt like such a long time – but it was really only minutes – before she heard the wail of ambulance siren. Stacey ran downstairs and frantically waved the paramedics inside. ‘Please help,’ she begged.
She waited downstairs, still struggling to comprehend what what going on, but they came back down just minutes later. Stacey could see from their faces what they were starting to say, and cut them off: ‘I know,’ she told them.
Her little boy was gone.
WHY WASN’T I DEAD TOO?
She grabbed a photo of Dominic, and began pulling at her hair, desperate to wake herself up from the nightmare. She noticed the paramedics opening windows, but didn’t have time to wonder why before people began to arrive – first the police, then her parents, who lived just a few minutes away.
As soon as she saw them and broke down: ‘I didn’t do anything,’ she cried. His death was so out of the blue, so unexplained, she thought people would think she’d hurt him.
She was taken to her parents’ house while the emergency services worked.
It didn’t take long for news of Dominic’s death to spread through the neighbourhood, and people began to arrive at their doorstep – neighbours, school friends, mates from his football team – all devastated by the news.
Later that afternoon his football manager came to pay his respects. ‘I opened the door he just stared at me,’ Stacey remembers. ‘Then he was overcome with emotion, and walked away without saying a word.’
It was nine long, terrible hours before she got a call from the coroner, who told her Dominic had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
‘I didn’t know what it was,’ she admits. ‘I just had more questions – if this gas was poisonous, why wasn’t I dead too?’
Stacey doesn’t remember much of the following hours – it was two days before she was able to return to her home for a change of clothes, where she confused to see a gas engineer in the house next door. Why, she thought, when the gas leak was in our home?
She distracted herself planning Dominic’s funeral and picking out his favourite songs – Glory Glory Man United, Where is the Love and Bittersweet Symphony – but at night the grief would close in on her, and she’d walk aimlessly up and down the road, until her father called her inside.
THE SILENT KILLER
After the funeral Stacey returned home one more time, but was unnerved when she entered the living room and the light bulb exploded overhead. ‘Get Dominic’s stuff and leave everything else,’ she instructed a friend.
She closed the door, and never returned – not even to collect her furniture.
From her parents’ house, she began to demand answers. She went to the local computer club and started searching about carbon monoxide poisoning, and was shocked by what she found.
Carbon monoxide gas cannot be seen, smelt or heard, and has the nickname the ‘Silent Killer’.
When fossil fuels such as coal, wood, oil and gas are burned, carbon dioxide is a natural by-product. However, if they don’t burn properly (due to a blocked flue, or lack of oxygen, or a faulty appliance) carbon monoxide can be created instead.
According to Department of Health statistics (2011), carbon monoxide poisoning kills 50 people every single year: another 200 are hospitalised with symptoms that can result in permanent disability, and 4000 end up in A&E with flu-like symptoms, including sickness, fatigue and persistent headaches.
When she read that children were at particular risk of poisoning and death, because of their lower body weight, Stacey knew she had to do something.
‘I knew if I could save even just one life, it would help me to keep going,’ she says.
She was working full time as a factory supervisor, so after work she’d fire emails off to anyone she thought might be able to help. ‘I figured there was no point going through the middle men,’ she says, ‘so I’d write to the head of British Gas to tell them my story.’
OBLIVIOUS TO THE DANGER HE WAS IN
Meanwhile, an investigation discovered the property next door to Stacey’s had a faulty boiler. Carbon monoxide had been pouring out of it and seeping through the walls, straight into Dominic’s bedroom.
What made this night lethal was a perfect storm of factors: the boiler’s flue was situated right under his bedroom; it was a cold night so the windows were tightly sealed; the wind was blowing in a direction that further pushed the gas up into his room.
A concentration of 500 parts per million (PPM) of carbon monoxide is dangerous – Dominic’s room measured 20,000 PPM.
The only comfort Stacey can take is that her son had been oblivious to the danger he was in; he was probably unconscious within minutes of her kissing him good night.
‘He was a sitting duck,’ Stacey says. ‘He didn’t stand a chance.’
Despite her devastation, she continued to push forward with her campaigning, and set up the Dominic Rodgers Trust. ‘I couldn’t let this happen to anyone else,’ she explains.
She was relentless – often staying up until two or three in the morning – fighting for awareness of this silent killer. And her voice was heard – as a direct result of her son’s death, regulations and safety requirements were tightened and awareness grew. ‘I know Dominic would have been proud of me,’ she replies modestly, when asked.
As the years passed, her drive never faltered – if anything, it grew.
Today she continues to work with schools, campsites and universities to spread her safety message. She’s contributed to parliamentary debates and health forums, and is currently working with PROJECT SHOUT, a charity dedicated to raising awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning. By 2020 they aim to have carbon dioxide alarms fitted in 10 million homes.
So when will Stacey stop fighting? The answer comes firmly and quickly:
‘Not until EVERY home in the UK has an alarm.’
• you might also like to read Fiona’s story, and how an £11 test could have saved her baby’s life (trigger warning – deals with baby loss), or how Annika turned her breast cancer diagnosis into a way to help others.
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