Mike, a North Vancouver father, recalls hearing his wife screaming from upstairs. “He fell out the window. He fell out the window.”
He remembers running outside to the side of their house and seeing his four-year-old son Oliver lying on the concrete, five metres below the bedroom window, not moving.
He saw that his son had hit his head, and knew it was bad.
“I had my concerns he wasn’t even going to make it to the hospital,” he said.
Waiting for the ambulance to arrive felt like forever.
Almost two months later, Mike – who asked that his last name be withheld because he works in the health-care field – is counting his family’s story as a miracle. And he wants to get the word out to other parents about ensuring windows have child-proof guards on them to save other families from experiencing what he’s been through.
It was April 10 and the family was home in North Vancouver when the unthinkable happened.
Both parents were home from work and getting ready for family activities, while their three boys – ages 4, 6 and 8 – played close by. Mike’s wife was making dinner in the kitchen when she heard her youngest son calling from upstairs, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck.”
By the time she’d run upstairs to Oliver’s second-floor bedroom, “she said there was just silence and the window was wide open,” said Mike.
Oliver was rushed to Lions Gate Hospital, then to B.C. Children’s Hospital.
The bulk of the force from the fall had impacted the back right side of Oliver’s head.
Doctors in the intensive care unit placed him into a medically induced coma and waited for the swelling in the little boy’s brain to ease. His parents were told it would be five days before they’d know anything.
They were told to prepare to hear bad news.
A week later, Oliver was moved to the neurosurgery ward. He was conscious again but had little movement on his left side and had lost much of his speech.
But the four-year-old defied predictions. Over the Easter weekend, he made a dramatic improvement. Much of his language ability returned and by the following week, “He was running around the hospital ward,” said Mike.
Next stop on the family’s recovery journey was Sunny Hill Health Centre, which offers rehabilitation for brain-injured children.
After Oliver’s dramatic progress, the centre was a sobering wake-up call.
“We saw families with stories similar to ours whose children weren’t doing so well,” said Mike. “It hammered home how close we came to it being a different outcome.”
Today, Oliver is back home and “doing fantastic,” said his dad.
The most lingering effect of the fall is damage to Oliver’s optic nerve, which has left him unable to see his left visual field, likely to be permanent.
Both Mike and his wife feel guilt about the fall, he said. But he added for a child to be playing in a nearby room at home is “not an abnormal thing.”
“We’ve talked about window safety in the past,” said Mike. “We thought we were in the clear.”
Mike said neither he nor his wife ever imagined their son would be able to reach the high window in his bedroom. But by piling blankets, pillows and a stool on top of each other, he did.
Then he just pushed the window open.
While the family was at the hospital, one of their relatives went to the hardware store and bought child-proof window locks, at a cost of less than $4 each, said Mike. “It took us 15 minutes to childproof our house.”
Now as temperatures rise, Mike said he wants to warn other parents so they don’t have to go through what his family did.
According to B.C. Children’s Hospital, the vast majority of falls from windows or balconies happen between April and September. Most happen at home and involve children six and under.
Already this year, eight children have been treated at the children’s hospital for falls.
Experts advise that window guards should be installed on all windows above the ground level, so that windows can’t open more than 10 centimetres wide.
Not all families have such a happy ending, said Mike, and “it can happen in a split second.”
“I can honestly say we feel we’ve been given a second chance.”