BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The widower of a pregnant woman killed by shrapnel from a Takata air bag in Malaysian Borneo in July held their dying daughter in his arms for 10 minutes as the prematurely delivered infant’s life sapped away.
Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido, 41, said doctors performed an emergency operation in an effort to save their unborn baby girl after the Honda City car driven by his wife crashed head-on with another car. The infant was delivered alive but in critical condition and died two days later.
“Imagine, two lives died in my arms. My wife died in my arms, and then my baby also,” Caido said in an interview in Kuala Belait, a quiet oil town in the sultanate of Brunei where he works as an electrician on offshore oil rigs.
The deaths of Malaysian citizen Law Suk Leh, 43, and the baby set off a global alarm on the danger of defective air bags.
Caido said his daughter did not open her eyes or cry like other newborns and had to depend on a ventilator to breathe as her heart weakened.
Recalling the agonizing moment when the doctor decided to take his baby off the ventilator and let her die naturally, he said: “The doctor checked her heart, and it was still OK. Then I talked with her for about 10 minutes, and then the doctor again checked her heart. The third time, the doctor said, ‘She’s passed away already.’ “
He added: “At least I still had time to talk to (our daughter). I said to her, ‘You have to take care of your mummy. Mummy will take care of you there. You are in good hands in heaven,’ and then, ‘Maybe one day we will meet again in the second life,’ ” he said haltingly, overcome by sadness.
The accident took place roughly two weeks before the couple were expecting their second child. They had driven from their home in Brunei to visit the woman’s parents in Sibu in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. They planned then to travel to Kuching, the capital, for the birth in mid-August.
The couple had arrived in Sibu on a Friday after the six-hour drive from Brunei. He recalled dyeing his wife’s hair on Sunday morning. “I bought a very nice hair dye for her, because I told her, ‘Mummy, since our age is like this already, we need to cover it up.’ She was very, very happy.”
They decided to leave their 7-year-old son with his grandparents so that they could go to church that afternoon. After the service they went to the mall to shop for their baby.
“We had ice cream at the mall. Actually, it was like a date since it was just the two of us, as we did not bring our son. It was very normal. We just talked about our baby.”
As they were heading back to the in-laws’ house, his wife at the wheel, their car crashed into another at an intersection.
“As far as I remember, we had a green light, and our speed was just normal. There was a car coming from our right. It made a right turn,” he recalled, prompting him to shout “Mummy! Car!”
He fainted for a moment and when he came round he found her unconscious with a lot of blood flowing from her neck.
Not wanting to wait for an ambulance, he sought help from bystanders. A stranger offered his car and they drove toward a hospital.
“At that time, I didn’t know whether my wife was still alive or not,” he said.
On the way, they came across an ambulance and his wife was transferred to it.
“When we brought her from the car, I could see that her mouth was still moving. . . . But the hospital was very far — too far — away from the site of our accident.”
At the hospital, a doctor told him they had to remove the baby in an effort to save her, and a few minutes later he was told his wife had passed away.
It was only later that he came to know the cause of death was metal shards from the airbag.
“The postmortem confirmed that it was from the airbag. . . . I said I don’t want to see the thing that killed her.”
“The airbag is supposed to save life in the case of emergency, but why is it the opposite? It killed two lives. If you see the picture of the car, (the collision) was not so serious.”
In November, Takata Corp. said in a statement that Honda Motor Co. had filed recall notifications in several countries, including Japan.
“This recall is being conducted because an investigation into an accident that occurred in Malaysia in July 2014 found that the moisture absorption control of the gas generating agent in some driver seat airbags had not been correctly implemented at the time of the manufacture,” the statement said.
“As a result . . . an inflator canister may rupture when the airbag deploys,” it said in the statement, which also “offered our deepest condolences to the victim who lost her life in the accident.”
Four deaths in four separate accidents in the United States have also reportedly been linked to Takata air bags installed in Honda vehicles.
“Because of what happened to us also . . . this is a wake-up call for the car companies,” Caido said.
“The main thing here is the safety of people. This is about life. Life is fragile. A single thing happened, accident, gone . . . so you need to be aware of this faulty airbag.”
Caido and his wife met in 2004 when he was 31 and working as a dance and aerobics teacher. She was 33 and a piano teacher. They married five years later.
She had bought the secondhand Honda car around 2005. It was in good condition and given no problems until the day of the accident, he said.
“Deep inside my heart I am still aching. It’s very painful, it still haunts me, the accident,” he said.