The Gippslander newspaper

Joe Traynor and his partner Michelle Websdale are the parents of seven-year-old Sarah Traynor who died recently due to a tragic accident that involved a swing and a skipping rope while she was playing in the back yard of her Bairnsdale home.

The loss of their only child has left the couple shocked and distraught and it has shattered their close-knit community. They hope other parents never have to go through the grief they are now experiencing. “It’s heartbreaking, horrific and devastating,” Joe said.

Michelle said Sarah was a beautiful, happy, bubbly little girl that touched the heart of everyone around her. “She enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls, little ponies and her zhu zhu pets. She was so artistic, she loved painting and drawing, and playing outdoors and she loved being with Dad tinkering around in the shed doing whatever he was doing. She’d always have a hammer or a screwdriver so she could pretend she was fixing things with him. Whenever I was cooking, she’d have a little apron and hat on ready to help me. She wanted to be involved in everything.

“We had worked so hard to get Sarah to where she was. As a little tod, she had a delayed speech problem and she was very shy. When I took her out, she’d pull on my pants or skirt and hide behind me, but in the last few years she’d just blossomed. We had done so much to get her to where she was with her schooling, speech therapy, OT and other programs, but there was nothing we wouldn’t have done for her.” Joe said she had progressed so much in recent years; it was like watching a rose grow. “She got on with other kids so well,” Michelle said, “and she had certificates and awards from school. She’d just started learning how to swim and she loved it when Joe came to watch her.”

The day Sarah died started like any other day. Joe was working on a billy cart that he had built for Sarah so she could participate in an upcoming billy cart derby. “Me and my building skills, I really go to the extreme and I built something really good out of steel,” he said.

Later Sarah came home from school with her mother and she ran through the house into the back yard where she saw the billy cart. “I said, ‘Sares look at what Daddy’s built for you’. I pushed her in it doing a lap around the garden and she really loved it. She said she wanted me to finish it and paint it pink and purple and then she went off in the back yard to play.”

Joe said he then told Michelle he was going out to pick up more welding rods and to call on his mother to help her change her compression bandages. He returned about an hour later with his sister Judy who was interested in the billy cart.

He said they both spoke briefly to Michelle and went into the back yard where they were greeted by the dog. They glanced at the billy cart and called out ‘Sares’ and then they looked at the swing.

Sarah was hanging on a skipping rope on the a-frame of the swing set with her toes just short of touching the grass. “Sarah loved swinging off things and she’d hooked the handle of the skipping rope around one of the upright struts on the swing set and somehow managed to put the other handle around the strut on the other side,” Joe said. “Where the swing is, there’s a cross member about 14 or 15 inches off the ground that holds the frame together. She must have stood on that and slipped off, falling into the rope with her head caught over it.

“I didn’t know what to do. I just grabbed her and started doing CPR while Judy kept yelling for an ambulance.” Michelle said she went into shock. She sat on the front footpath and screamed and a neighbour who was a paramedic came to their aid. “All I remember then is him saying I’m sorry mate but it’s too late.”

The ambulance arrived and worked on Sarah for about 40 minutes before taking her to hospital. Michelle followed however, Joe was held back for police questioning. He said it was because he had moved Sarah off the swing and there were rope marks around her neck. “I just kept telling them that I wanted to be with my daughter.”

After an hour or so, they took him to the hospital. He said he could hear Michelle crying out from a room where Sarah was on life support. The doctor attending Sarah said the chances of their daughter surviving were minimal and that she would be brain dead. “We just kept asking them to bring her back but then we realised that it was hopeless and if they did she would be a vegetable. We couldn’t have our little Sarah back like that and eventually we agreed to switch off the machine, which was the most horrific decision to have to make.”

Sadly, Joe and Michelle had already suffered the loss of their fathers earlier in the year due to illness. “Sarah was so giving and understanding when we were grieving,” Michelle said. “She was a very loving, kind, thoughtful little girl; our lives will never be the same.

“The support we’ve had from the community, from around Australia and overseas has been overwhelming. We can’t thank everyone enough.”

By Wendy Morriss 

Copyright © 2012 Wendy Morriss: Freelance Journalist. All Rights Reserved.