Remembering Mac: A mother’s plea

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A woman who grew up in Niskayuna is at the center of a national fight for safer window blinds after her son got caught in a cord and died. It’s a personal tragedy that’s become her public mission.

In fact she traveled from Washington, D.C. to talk with us about this at her parent’s home in the Capital Region — that’s how important this is to her.

Erica Barnes Thomas says her worst fear is she’ll know somebody else to lose a child this way. Especially if they hear her story and choose to ignore the message.

Little Mac Thomas was an adventurous 2-year-old who loved playing on the beach and riding his wagon through the apple orchard.

“The weather was starting to change the morning he passed away,” Erica recalled.

It happened in a way she never thought possible in her home, where she thought everything was safe — including the window coverings that had a child safety release on the pull cord.

“If I had known they were dangerous and left the blinds hanging, I don’t think I could live with myself,” she said.

On the morning of March 1, 2014, Erica was planning a welcome home party for her husband Stephen, a military doctor who’d been serving in the Middle East.

“The boys had finger painted a big banner that said welcome home Daddy,” she recalled.

When Erica went upstairs to wake up Mac, she realized he’d climbed out of his toddler bed. She found him on the floor beneath his bedroom window.

“I walked a little bit closer and I could see his hand was curled around his [toy] monkey,” she said.

His finger nails were blue. So was his mouth.

“In that moment of ‘What is going on?’ I could see there was a dark mark on one side of his neck,” she described.

Through the fog of emergency sirens and paramedics arriving she performed CPR. Doctors at the hospital couldn’t save her baby boy.

“And it’s like you just die in that moment,” she said.

The police told her Mac had likely climbed up onto the same rocking chair Erica rocked him in the night before to look out the window, and then slipped, getting caught not in the pull cord, but in the cords running alongside the back of the roman shades. It was a danger that never crossed her mind.

“They said it hit his windpipe in just the right place and completely cut the oxygen off,” she explained.

Mac was one of four children to die from strangulation this way during a three-week span last year.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nine children died in 2014 from corded window blinds. One hundred eighty-four were killed between 1996 and 2012.

Erica is now part of a group called Parents For Window Blind Safety that created a powerful public service announcement to show cords can kill kids.

The group is fighting for the CPSC to pass a mandatory standard to take the outer cords off all window coverings. Several manufacturers have pushed back, saying the industry’s voluntary standards are enough.

Michael Masucci owns Ted’s Flooring in Albany, where they sell custom window coverings by Hunter Douglas. He insists that company has been on the forefront of safety, even though they’re still selling blinds with cords.

“If you’re really concerned about cords, get motorized or cordless,” Masucci suggested.

He believes there is resistance to a mandatory standard because smaller companies will have to foot the bill.

“Discount companies who don’t want to spend the money to retool their factories,” he explained.

When asked if a child’s life is more important, Masucci replied, “Yes, very much so. But the parents have got to go out and buy the right product.”

Erica doesn’t think that’s good enough.

“As long as those blinds are still being sold, people are going to buy them and children are going to keep dying,” she said.

Erica and her husband ripped every one of those corded window coverings out of their home and replaced them with cordless blinds.

“At the end of the day, it’s too late. But I have another child and a child on the way and now I know,” she said, “the safety of your world can be gone in an instant.”

Some parents are hesitant to buy cordless blinds because, in most cases, they’re more expensive.

We’ve heard a lot of people say instead, they tape the pull cord up instead.

Erica says that’s not enough. If you can reach it, your child can find a way to get to it.

The CPSC is taking comments as it considers that mandatory standard. You can weigh in by clicking here.