Monday, March 1, 2010

Belle's Legacy

SHE looked perfect, sitting in her booster seat in the back of the family car, seemingly just a bit startled after a minor traffic accident that broke only a headlight. 

But within minutes Isabelle Broadhead was bleeding to death - a tiny life lost due a fatal flaw in the laws covering child restraints.

Now, thanks to devastated parents Noel and Danielle asking how it was that Isabelle could die in what in April 2006 was a legal booster seat, no other NSW child should suffer the same fate after such a minor incident.

Isabelle's legacy is new state laws demanding that from March children aged up to fours years must be in a child restraint, not a booster seat with an adult seatbelt. The laws also state a booster seat must be used for children aged up to seven years.

"It started a few months after Isabelle died," Mr Broadhead said.
"My wife Danielle started to ask questions about why did Isabelle die, why didn't she walk away like she did and Madeleine, Isabelle's older sister, did from such a minor accident.
"Isabelle was sitting in an approved seat, appropriate according to the standards, appropriate for her age and her height and weight."

Their daughter's liver had been compressed into her spine, almost severing it, but it was baffling just how she could suffer such deadly injuries.

"Why did she die I think is a reasonable sort of question but people didn't really have any answers," Mr Broadhead said.

"Danielle jumped on the internet and found evidence of research in the years before the accident that said for children who went from a child restraint seat that had the built-in harness to a booster seat, that if they do it too early then it radically increases the likelihood they'll be severely injured or killed in a crash.

"And yet the law said it was fine. The law actually said it was legal to put a 12-month-old baby in an adult seatbelt. Actually until the first of March that's the law still."

Mrs Broadhead had been taking Isabelle to preschool and Madeleine, now 11, to school when a truck forced her to veer off the road at Mt Kembla, south of Sydney.

After hitting a tree at just 40km/h, Mrs Broadhead turned immediately to check on her children.
They appeared to be fine. The car itself only had a broken headlight and some minor crumpling of the bonnet.

"She got Madeleine out of the car and when she released Isabelle's seatbelt, Isabelle slumped forward," Mr Broadhead said.

"Until that point she didn't realise there was anything wrong. Obviously the blood had already stopped going to her brain and she blacked out."

Despite support for the campaign, Mr Broadhead has a message for the few parents who complained of the cost of keeping kids in restraints and booster seats for longer.
"Isabelle had three older sisters," he said. "One of the hardest things I have ever done was to tell the girls their sister died.

"And I had to tell all three separately . . . I had to do it three times. I would ask them to consider just for a moment, to think what it would be like to do that." 

A big 'well done' to Noel and Danielle as the new laws take effect today. I don't think many people understand what a fight it has been, and what an achievement it is, for two ordinary people to have our laws changed. Along the way there have been a lot of people who have complained about the cost of replacing their existing child restraints - something I can't understand as you can't put a price on your child's safety.

However, as wonderful as these changes are they don't bring Isabelle back...

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