Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide.
The 90 minutes that Penny and William Molloy waited in April for someone to save their daughter’s life felt like an eternity.
Their daughter Ashley, 27, was still alert, but they knew the poison from an overdose of prescription drugs was moving further and further into her body. She refused their pleas to throw up what she had ingested.
They can see the local hospital from their front step in Harbour Breton, a small coastal community on Newfoundland’s south coast, but on that day last month, it was closed, and emergency services were on what is called a full diversion. The nearest ambulance was about 70 kilometres away.
“Just wait,” William said. That was all they could do, he said: “Just wait for a miracle that was never about to come.”
By the time Ashley arrived at the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor — the closest option, even though it’s 225 kilometres away — five hours had passed.
Ten hours later, she died, after suffering three seizures in hospital.
Penny Molloy said there was never enough support for her daughter, who suffered with depression for years. But the day before she died, when she was most vulnerable, nobody was there.
The Molloys told CBC about their daughter, her struggles with mental health and how they feel the health-care system failed their family — and their rural community — in the moment when they needed it most.
Central Health, which provides medical services in the region, said in a statement that the regional health authority does not discuss particular cases. It did not respond to specific questions about the incident.
“No parent should have to go through this,” William Molloy said. “You shouldn’t have to outlive your kids. Ours was took way too soon. All because of neglect, and the help that she wanted but could not get.
“And now we got to live with this for the rest of our life.”
A long battle with depression
Ashley lived with depression for years, according to her mother.
She had already attempted suicide, including when she was 17, in Grade 12. That time, the Connaigre Peninsula Health Centre was open for emergency patients, and the hospital was able to give her a charcoal treatment to reverse the effects of the poison she had ingested.
Over the next 10 years, she tried to live her life to the fullest: she got engaged and had two children. She moved to Alberta and came back home to start her family.
But she also attempted suicide on other occasions, her mother said, and continued to struggle with a burdensome depression that prevented her from working.
Her mom said her life seemed to improve after she had her two children, who are now seven and five years old.
“She loved her kids, and her kids loved her,” she said. “Everything was them kids.”
She was a joy to be around.– William Molloy
Her mom says she wanted to get better, and that she tried as hard as she could. But a steady stream of trips to the hospital, Penny Molloy said, usually amounted to nothing more than a different antidepressant prescription.
Her parents say they cannot count how many times she saw a doctor or another medical professional. But they feel the help Ashley needed couldn’t be found.
“She cried for help, she begged for help. But it wasn’t there,” Penny Molloy said.
Ashley also frequently had seizures, further complicating her life. As well, some of her medications caused hard side effects, her parents said, including severe and persistent nausea.
‘She just gave up on everything’
By March, Ashley’s mental health had deteriorated to a low.
“She couldn’t go for walks, she couldn’t be at the kids, she couldn’t do nothing,” Penny said. “She couldn’t do nothing alone. She got to the end and she wouldn’t go places. She just gave up on everything.”
It was a big difference from the daughter they had known. Her father said she could be fun, energetic, outgoing and helpful.
“She was a joy to be around,” he said.
On a Sunday morning in April, William and Penny awoke to find their daughter in their house with a bottle of prescription drugs in hand. She was still alert; she even told her parents she had ingested the antidepressants.
But she wouldn’t agree to try to get them out of her stomach. Her father tried to forcibly make her vomit, and that did not work.
“I know now I was doing wrong,” he said. “But at the time I just thought I was trying to save her. Nobody else would.”
Penny said the family did not want to drive themselves, as there is almost no cellphone service along the long, isolated highway to Grand Falls-Windsor. They said there would be no way they could ask anyone for help if their daughter’s condition suddenly turned during the drive.
All they could do, they said, was wait.
“Hopeless. It was like it was never going to show,” Penny said.
“Took her in my arms, same as handling a little baby, wanting her to come out of it,” her father added. “Wanted so fast for the ambulance to be there.”
According to Penny and William Molloy, by the time Ashley arrived at the emergency room in Grand Falls-Windsor, charcoal treatment — which had saved her before — was no longer an option. They said an X-ray revealed the pills had moved too far into her body.
The trip from Harbour Breton, N.L., to the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor is along a challenging rural highway. (CBC News)
She suffered three seizures in hospital. After the third, her father said, the doctors at the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre said they couldn’t keep going.
“The doctor came out and said, ‘Go in with her and hold her hand,'” William said.
“How do you let your baby go? We had to go in, sit by her bedside, hold her hand. The last few seconds she was hanging in there I took her in my arms, I hold her in my arms. She looked up at me with a big smile on her face, her eyes open as wide as they could.
“She just passed on.”
Raising their daughter’s children
On Ashley’s gravesite at the Roman Catholic cemetery in Harbour Breton sit two bouquets of fabric flowers. The colours — pink and purple — were picked out by her two daughters.
They now live with their grandparents, and Penny and William Molloy get them ready for school every day.
They have an “impossible” job, they said: trying to explain to the two girls where their mother is.
“How do you do it? How do you tell them?” William said. “When you go from one day, you got your mom, to the next day, you got no mom?”
When they returned home from the hospital, William said, he took Ashley’s coat with him, and her shoes were still at the house.
Ashley’s older daughter saw him tidying her things away.
“Sophia said, ‘Pop! See, you tricked me!’ I said, ‘Why, baby?’ She said, ‘Mommy’s here!’ I said, ‘No, baby. Mommy’s not here.'”
Where to get help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca
In Newfoundland and Labrador: Mental Health Crisis Line 24 Hour: 811
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre