A Sydney mother has spoken of her anguish after her autistic and epileptic daughter was found dead in a bathtub just days before her 21st birthday.
Merna Aprem, 20, had been living at a care home in Sydney’s west for a few months when she slipped below the water and drowned on Thursday, May 23.
Her mother, Tanya Petrus, said she spoke to her daughter on the phone that morning.
Merna was found dead later that day after NSW Police were called to the facility at 7pm and paramedics were unable to save her.
Merna Aprem, 20, had been living at a care home in Sydney’s west for a few months when she slipped below the water and drowned last Thursday
Ms Petrus revealed she had been planning to celebrate the young woman’s milestone birthday next week, but is now preparing to lay her to rest.
‘She’d written all her birthday invitations,’ the grieving mother said.
‘I want to make sure no parents go through what I’m going through. This has changed me forever.’
The single mother of six is now demanding to know how her daughter could have been left alone to die.
She’d long been reluctant to ask for help caring for Merna, but did so after the 20-year-old’s behaviour became increasingly difficult to manage.
Some mornings, Merna had bites on her lip and tongue, signs of overnight seizures.
Fearing her daughter might fall down the stairs or collapse in the shower, Ms Petrus decided she needed 24-hour care.
NDIS funding and meticulous research led her to Afford, which operates group homes in Sydney’s west.
‘In 20 years I never asked for respite or help … this was the only time I asked for help,’ Ms Petrus said.
Ms Petrus decided Merna needed 24-hour care after fearing her daughter might fall down the stairs or collapse in the shower. NDIS funding and meticulous research led her to Afford, which operates group homes in Sydney’s west
The single-storey, five bedroom brick home in Woodbine that Merna moved to in mid-March cost thousands of dollars each week under the NDIS.
Merna loved three things – Star Wars, swimming and routine – so it took time to accept the significant change in her living conditions.
After a rocky start, by late April Merna was warming to staff and making friends.
‘I feel guilty, I kept saying to her “stay, you’ll have friends”,’ Ms Petrus said.
‘I would see her once or twice a week. I kept asking (Afford) “please have regular staff check her so she knows their faces”.’
‘Inquiries suggest drowning was the woman’s cause of death,’ NSW Police said.
‘A report will be prepared for the coroner.’
Afford’s executive manager of client services, Casey Hailes, believes the young woman had a medical episode.
Ms Hailes said that Afford is yet to be provided with a formal cause of death.
‘I don’t believe she was left in the bath for too long and I don’t believe she drowned,’ she said, adding the event was ‘tragic’.
‘She was a very, very independent young woman.’
The group home is staffed 24 hours a day with staff sleeping in a bedroom.
Ms Hailes said the home was ‘without a doubt’ staffed correctly and with sufficiently experienced employees last Thursday.
But, Ms Hailes said, Afford had not been made aware of Merna’s overnight seizures and, if that information had been disclosed, they would have submitted documents to the NDIS and applied for funding to properly meet those needs.
Afford has hired an external investigator to examine the incident which has been reported to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.
Staff were formally interviewed by police and have been offered face-to-face counselling.
Merna will be laid to rest next week with Star Wars-themed music playing at the church.