Stair plunge grandmother died in son's arms

03:14, Aug 30 2012
Julie Ferne
FAMILY TRAGEDY: Julie Ferne with grandson Carter.

The parents of a newborn baby critically injured in Vietnam are clinging to hope that he pulls through, despite his condition plateauing.

Carter Preston was just four days old when he fell nearly seven metres when his grandmother, who was holding him at the time, lost her footing and stumbled over a rail in her son's home in Ho Chi Minh City.

Julie Ferne, 68, died shortly after while Carter has been left struggling to survive.

It was Ferne's first trip to Asia when she left Auckland earlier this month, spent time with family in Singapore and then travelled to Vietnam to welcome her sixth grandchild into the world on August 20.

Her son, Phil Preston, was at the ''height of happiness'', but now he's grieving for his mum and fighting for his newborn son.

Carter is bleeding from his brain, but doctors have told Preston that they are positive he can pull through the ordeal, he wrote on his Facebook page earlier this week.


The accident took place nearly a week ago, on Friday, and Carter started showing signs of improvement on Tuesday. He had woken, started to move his arms and legs and cried a little, Preston wrote.

Preston and his partner Chau, have only been able to see their son intermittently and the last update they received was yesterday evening (NZ Time).

"During our 5 minute visit he was asleep. The doctor said he has been still & quiet today. We hope this is just a plateau before the next steps towards recovery. Very hard to see our little man so still and dependent on the medical team," Preston wrote.

"Brains are a strange and wondrous organ. Anything can happen."

Preston's brother Sean is also in Vietnam to support his brother and arrange for his mother's body to be returned to New Zealand. Her body would most likely leave Vietnam on a flight tomorrow morning and arrive in Auckland on Saturday.

Her funeral would be held on September 14, allowing enough time for her two sons and their families, who are based in Vietnam and Singapore, to make arrangements to come home. Her other son, Stefan, lives in Auckland.  

Ferne was holding Carter when she descended one set of stairs in her son's home and had to turn around to descend the next set, Sean said.

She lost her footing and being top heavy, lost her balance and stumbled over the low railing, falling 6.7 metres on to the marble floor below.

Preston and Chau rushed out of their bedroom to find Ferne in a pool of blood, and Carter struggling to breathe.

Sean said: ''If Carter had hit the floor by himself he would have gone. I know Mum protected him on the way down.''

Preston picked his mum up in his arms, while Chau cradled their baby. The four of them got in a taxi and headed for the hospital.

Doctors told them that Ferne's heart was not beating on arrival, which meant she had probably died in Preston's arms, Sean said.

The incident occurred last Friday, and Sean left his Singapore home to arrive to a ''shell-shocked'' brother the following day.

''[Phil] has gone from the height of happiness in his life ... and then for this to happen in an instant, it's taken him to the biggest low."

While the family are devastated by what has happened, they take comfort in knowing that Ferne was extremely happy in her last few weeks and had the opportunity to meet Carter.

She rode on the back of Preston's bike and danced with locals in the days before her death.

She had travelled to Vietnam after visiting Sean and his family in Singapore, where she had built huts out of blankets and cupcakes from play-dough with two of her other grandchildren, Sean said.

The retired art tutor and primary school teacher's life revolved around her children and grandchildren.

She was living in Birkenhead, in Auckland's North Shore, where she would regularly catch up with her other son, Stefan, and his family.

Paintings from children she taught adorn the walls of her home and would now be treasured by her family instead, Stefan said.

Ferne grew up in Waiouru and Ohakune and went to Ruapehu College.

Married twice, but single in later life, she had lived in Christchurch, Thames and Hahei, on the Coromandel.

Just before she left for Vietnam, she told Sean that she would like to make a difference, and he is hoping she still can.

The family have set up a trust fund to raise money for hospital equipment in Vietnam. Equipment was basic, with parents having to hand-pump life support machines, Sean said.

Donations could be made to any ASB branch or directly into the Julie Ferne Memorial Trust ASB account, 12-3198-0065427-00.

The Dominion Post