Coroner rules death of Tilgate boy, 7, a tragic accident
A POPULAR boy with a "wonderful presence" died accidentally when he choked on his lunch, a coroner has ruled.
Matthew Russo tragically lost his fight for life at St George's Hospital, in London, on September 29, 2010 - 13 days after he choked on a piece of stewed meat at the special needs school he attended.
The seven-year-old, of Shackleton Road, Tilgate, stopped breathing for between 20 and 40 minutes during the incident at Manor Green Primary School, in Ifield.
His father, Dominic Russo, told the inquest at Horsham Coroners' Court last Wednesday (May 9) that on Matthew's third birthday he had a terrible accident where he drank from a boiling cup of tea.
This caused burns to his throat and chest, significantly affecting his ability to eat.
Matthew, who was autistic, did not have a spit reflex and needed his food cut into small pieces to allow him to swallow it.
He was unable to speak, which made it difficult for him to say if he was struggling with his food.
Manor Green Primary School, in Lady Margaret Road, has a team of dinner ladies who assist children who need extra help to eat.
Matthew was a part of this group and on September 16 he was eating his lunch when he started choking.
Ann Hickey, a dinner lady at the school, said: "We were getting to know Matthew and he was delightful.
"The children have their food cut up for them and we always ask if they have any requirements or if there was anything they couldn't eat. On that day [the food] was very small, it was fine.
"Matthew was sat opposite me and he gave a cough, the dinner lady sat next to him patted his back and she went off to get him a drink.
"He turned round and looked at me. There was fear on that little boy's face."
A nurse at the school carried out CPR on Matthew before he was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
Coroner David Skipp ruled that Matthew's death was accidental.
He said: "Matthew was a much-loved boy taking his place in a loving family.
"His family have to be commended for their care and security and I do not believe there was anything else they could have done for him."
At the time of Matthew's death, his family released a statement which read: "Matthew was a very happy boy, full of life, who always made us smile.
"We will miss his lovely bright blue, twinkling eyes, his beautiful smile and wonderful presence.
"Matthew was an important part of our family and everyone who met him loved him dearly."
Ginny Marshall, acting head teacher at Manor Green Primary School at the time, said: "Matthew was a quiet, gentle little boy who loved school. He loved looking at books, playing in the water and dancing to his favourite music."
After the coroner's verdict was announced, Matthew's parents Dominic and Bridgette released a statement.
It said: "As the coroner said, Matthew was a much-loved boy who died in a terrible accident.
"The court has heard from those who tried to help him. It is clear to us that they all did absolutely everything they could.
"Matthew will never be forgotten. One of the ways in which he will be remembered is through the Matthew Russo Foundation.
"We were determined that some good would come out of this terrible tragedy.
"The foundation raises money for children with special needs. It helps individual families as well as organisations."
The foundation has helped to fund the sensory garden at Manor Green School and allowed children in the Springboard Project, a play centre for children with special needs in Horsham, to visit Legoland.
Matthew has also saved the lives of two baby girls who were donated two of his heart valves.