“It’s a quiet neighborhood.”
That seemed all many concerned community members could muster Monday afternoon, just hours after two toddlers were found unconscious in their beds and died.
First responders were called to Amalgamated Housing at 98 Van Cortlandt Park S., during the early hours of July 10 to help two young children who were struggling to breathe. By the time EMS arrived, the siblings — Olivia Gee, 2, and Micha Gee, 3 —were already unconscious and unresponsive.
They were rushed to Montefiore Medical Center on East 210th Street where the two would die just minutes apart.
“You always think that you’re supposed to go before your children,” Edward Irizzay said. “I felt real saddened.”
Irizzay, a father of two, has lived in the Amalgamated for the past five years. And during that time, he said, nothing like this has ever happened in the co-op community.
Irizzay first heard police sirens around 2 a.m. When he looked out his window, he was shocked to see so many emergency vehicles. At least five fire trucks and four ambulances lined Gale Street, he said.
“There were so many lights,” Irizzay said. “I had never seen that many trucks on this block.”
He went outside to find out what was going on, but all law enforcement officers would tell Irizzay was that there was a medical emergency. It was hours later before he heard two children had died.
“I don’t know what happened,” Irizzay said
The investigation is still ongoing, according to police.
The 50th Precinct station has interviewed both the mother and her boyfriend who were at the home that night, as well as the siblings’ biological father. Autopsies should determine cause of death, but it could be weeks before definitive results are released.
Olivia and Micha both suffered from severe asthma, according to news reports. The city’s health department says more than 80,000 children in New York City suffer from the chronic lung disease, resulting in more than 42,000 emergency room visits and 7,000 hospitalizations each year.
The rate of asthma in the Bronx is higher than any other borough, the department said, with more than 8 percent of people suffering from the condition.
And it’s a dangerous condition to have, said Dr. Monroe Karetzky, director of the Bronx Pulmonary Center. Karetzky, a pulmonary disease specialist, has focused on a lot of his published work on asthma mortality.
“It can appear when somebody is apparently stable,” Karetzky said, adding that death “is always a threat.”
One minute a child can be perfectly normal, and the next something may trigger an attack, he said. Those triggers can include an emotional crisis, an acute viral infection, or even something in their own environment.
Parents of children with asthma, Karetzky added, should keep a close eye on them and be educated on what to do if there is an attack.
“It’s always there, it doesn’t go away,” he said. “Certainly in urban environments, it’s always talked about exposure to fumes from all sorts of exhaust.”
While it may take some time to get answers to the tragedy, community members of the co-op just south of Van Cortlandt Park are left to wonder what went wrong.
Lucy Degidon has lived in the Amalgamated for the past decade, but has never seen anything like this. The art teacher and grandmother always worked closely with the children in the neighborhood, creating artwork for the nursery and teaching classes from a studio in the area.
She was surprised by Monday’s events.
“People watch out for the other children,” Degidon said. “It makes me think, ‘Is it something the parents may or may not have done or been aware of?’
“That’s terrible to lose a child. It’s the most awful thing I think you can go through.”