Grandmother dead, child injured in fall

FAMILY TRAGEDY: Julie Ferne with grandson Carter.
FAMILY TRAGEDY: Julie Ferne with grandson Carter.

A New Zealand woman has died after falling down stairs and over a rail in Vietnam while cradling her four-day-old grandson, who is now fighting to survive.

Julie Ferne, 68, was in Vietnam visiting her son Phil, his wife Chau and their newborn son when the tragic accident occurred on August 24.

It was the Auckland woman's first visit to Asia, where she had visited her son Sean, his wife and children in Singapore before she travelled to Vietnam to welcome her sixth grandchild into the world.

After being at the hospital for the birth, the family had returned to their home in Ho Chi Minh City for some much needed rest, Ferne's son Stefan Preston said.

Phil and Chau were in bed when Ferne picked up four-day-old Carter and started descending the steep stair case.

But the avid artist with a big heart lost her footing and stumbled over the rail, taking Carter with her. She fell nearly seven metres on to a hard marble floor on the atrium below, Stefan said.

Phil said on his Facebook page that he thought his mum had protected Carter during the fall.

Ferne died in hospital shortly after, while Carter received critical injuries, including bleeding on his brain.

He remains in a critical condition in Ho Chi Minh Children's Hospital where he is continuing his fight for life, his family said in a statement today.

"Kia Kaha little man," Ferne's three children Stefan, Phil and Sean said in the statement.

Phil described his wife Chau as a "rock". The couple had been singing to their son, hoping he would respond.

Carter still has a long way ahead of him and his recovery since last week's incident has been slow, but the best news came in the early hours of this morning, Phil wrote.

"Carter's Doctor has phoned us to say that Carter woke this evening and started to move his arms and legs. Then gave a bit of a cry. We take this as a very positive step.

"It seems everyday Carter has been able to make another step towards recovery. Both Chau and I are celebrating tonight with some quiet time together. Much needed and fully deserved for Chau."

Ferne was a fiercely proud grandmother whose life revolved around her children and grandchildren, Stefan said.
She had a huge network of friends, most who she had met through her relief primary school teaching and tutoring art.

She grew up in Waiouru and Ohakune, where she attended Ruapehu College and "collected friends", Stefan said.
Ferne had met one of those childhood friends when she visited Singapore, prior to travelling to Vietnam.

She had spent about 15 years in the Coromandel, where she worked as an art tutor and as a holiday manager for Bachcare, which her daughter-in-law Leslie owns.

She had returned to Auckland about seven years ago and was living in Birkenhead at the time of her death. She had married twice but was single, retired and loving being a grandmother in recent years, Stefan said.

Stefan described his mum as a happy person. He created a YouTube video which showed photos of her throughout her life, with her brother and his plane and playing dress-ups with her children.

The family was overwhelmed by the support they had received since news of her death broke, and said many people had asked what they could do to help.

"Mum spoke to us before she died about the poverty in Vietnam and her desire to contribute.

"To illustrate this situation, in the same ward as Carter at Ho Chi Minh City Children's Hospital is a young baby with a heart condition. In the last few days that we have been here the baby's parents have been taking shifts constantly hand pumping his ventilator to keep their child alive, as the hospital does not have the automated equipment to do this."

The family were hoping that something good could come from their mother's memory and had set up a trust fund to raise money for hospital equipment.

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

They were working with the New Zealand consulate to arrange for Ferne's body to be brought back to New Zealand and planned to hold a funeral for her in Auckland on September 14.