Kiwi dies in plunge with grandson

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012
Julie Ferne

FAMILY TRAGEDY: Julie Ferne with grandson Carter.

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One week ago Phil Preston was at the “height of happiness”, but now he's grieving for his mum and fighting for his son after they fell almost 7 metres in his home in Vietnam.

Mr Preston had shouted his mother Julie Ferne her trip from Auckland and she arrived in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month to welcome her sixth grandchild into the world on August 20.

Just four days later, as she was carrying newborn Carter, Ms Ferne lost her balance, stumbled over a low stair rail and fell 6.7 metres on to the marble floor below.

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

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

Phil 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 Ms Ferne's heart was not beating on arrival, which meant she had probably died in Phil'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."

The family are now arranging for their mother's body to be brought back to New Zealand, while they pray and hope for the best outcome for Carter, who is improving each day but still has a long road ahead of him.

Carter has been moved from the intensive care unit at Ho Chi Minh Children's Hospital to an isolation room, where his parents can visit him for only five minutes each day.

“He moved his arms and legs and is crying, drinking milk and his eyes are now following his mum,” Sean said. “We have to take each day as it comes.”

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

She rode on the back of Phil'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.

Ms Ferne, 68, 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.

Her funeral will be on September 14 in North Harbour.

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

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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. Fairfax NZ

- The Dominion Post

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