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After 'miracle' child survives 11-story fall, questions arise about safety

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Fifteen-month-old Musa Dayib
Fifteen-month-old Musa Dayib's uncle, Abdirahim Ahmed, provided MPR News this photo of the boy at Hennepin County Medical Center after Musa survived an 11-story fall from a balcony at Riverside Plaza in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Abdirahim Ahmed

Residents of the Riverside Plaza apartments in Minneapolis say they're working with the owners of the complex to prevent falls like the one that nearly took the life of a child.

• 'Miracle' child survives 11-story fall in Minneapolis

Fifteen-month-old Musa Dayib is in critical but stable condition after falling from an 11th floor balcony on Sunday evening. Musa's relatives believe he slipped through the balcony's railing.

  The Riverside Plaza apartment complex is made of, and surrounded, by concrete. But Musa fell the 11 floors and landed on one of the few pieces of soft ground near the buildings -- a patch of mulch just a few feet in either direction from a metal electrical cabinet and a sidewalk. 

Falls like that are almost always fatal, according to Dr. David Templeman, the Hennepin County Medical Center orthopedic surgeon who set the boy's two broken arms.

"Above seven stories is where survival starts to become very questionable," he said. "I think it's a miracle that he survived."

The boy also suffered a broken spine and ribs, as well as a concussion and a punctured lung, but doctors expect him to survive.  

Abdirahim Ahmed, Musa's uncle, said the boy was in the apartment with his father and 3-year-old sister on Sunday evening. At some point the door opened, and Musa walked out.

There was nothing on the balcony the boy could have climbed on to get over the top of the railing, he added. That's why he thinks Musa likely slipped between the steel bars of the guardrail.

"He went through it. I believe he went through. They can do things you can't imagine these kids. They're little," Ahmed said. He doesn't blame the building's owners for the accident, but added that the door latch to the balcony was broken and couldn't be locked.

Riverside Plaza's balconies are up to code and the complex has no violations, according to Minneapolis city building inspectors. Building official Patrick Higgins said the vertical metal rods underneath the railing are 5.5 inches apart -- a narrower gap than was required when the buildings were constructed. 

Today's building code requires an even closer spacing specifically so a small child can't get through, Higgins said. Riverside Plaza was renovated two years ago, but the balconies weren't part of the overhaul, he added.

"If they chose to upgrade those rails, they would have had to have brought them to the new standard, which is 4 inches.  But we don't proactively go in and say 'code change, now you've got to change all your building systems.' If it was previously approved by the code, it's grandfathered until they choose to rebuild that area," Higgins said.

Riverside Plaza owner George Sherman said he's aware that high rise balconies can be dangerous for children. At a tenants' meeting at the Brian Coyle community center Tuesday night, Sherman said the maintenance staff will close off balcony doors for any tenant who asks.

"For residents who would like to have a mechanism to block their patio doors from being opened, we will provide that accommodation, [we] have in the past, and will continue to provide that at no charge for the residents," Sherman said. 

For now, that blocking mechanism is a 2-by-4 inch piece of lumber cut to fit the sliding door. 

Because of Musa's fall on Sunday, Sherman said he's now checking to see what sort of permanent childproof locks are allowed under the fire code. 

As the child continues to recover, members of the Somali-American community in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood say they're beginning fundraising efforts for the family.