Content note: This post discusses the loss of a child.
Katie and Jonathan Chamberlain’s little boy was just nine months old when he choked on a latex balloon and died back in May 2018. The grieving couple took to social media at the time to warn other families just how dangerous balloons can be – and we’re sharing this post again to remind parents to be vigilant with these seemingly harmless household items.
Balloons most likely to cause a fatal choking accident
Some families might be quite relaxed about having balloons in the house, but experts tell us that we must not be complacent – and the danger they pose is very real.
“Out of our choking accidents worldwide, or nationwide, the most common object [to fatally choke on] is a balloon,” paediatric specialist Dr Edgar Petras says.
“Between 1972 and 1992, 449 American children under age 14 choked to death on non-food items, according to a 2010 policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” CBS reports. “Twenty-nine percent of those choking deaths were caused by balloons. Between 1990 and 2004, at least 68 kids died in the US from choking on latex balloons.”
Disaster can strike “extremely fast”
While Katie and Jonathan knew balloons were dangerous – and supervised their kids carefully when they played with them – it only took one forgotten stray balloon to claim their little boy’s life.
“I knew they posed a potential choking hazard but I never knew just how hazardous,” devastated mum-of-four Katie wrote in her Facebook warning to other parents.
“I didn’t let my kids put them in their mouth, other than to blow them up, and I NEVER let my babies play with them even being especially careful while my two-year-old played water balloons with his older brothers,” she explains, revealing her older children had been playing outside with water balloons a couple of days before tragedy hit this family.
“Just having them around is too much risk,” Katie warned. “In many cases, there is simply not enough time to react to a balloon going into your child’s mouth before it is too late. It’s not as simple as watching them with the balloons because it can and does happen EXTREMELY fast. They are lightweight and sticky. A deep breath in, which who doesn’t take before blowing a balloon up, is all it takes to send it flying down your airway.”
“It was too late”
Katie says somehow a stray balloon was concealed on the lounge room floor, and her curious baby spotted it.
“The morning of May 31, 2018, started no different than any other day,” a heartbroken Katie writes. “I fed baby Justin, changed him, and then set him on the living room floor to play. I noticed a balloon on the floor, which was quickly thrown away. I failed to notice another balloon.”
“My 9-month-old, while playing, found the balloon and, as all babies do, stuck the new object in his mouth. I didn’t see him put it in his mouth but I looked at him and saw he was gagging so I went to him, in a hurry, hoping to retrieve whatever it was but it was too late.”
“The action of gagging and then inhaling caused the balloon to go straight down his airway (which is only about as big around as a straw at his age.) Not even a second after he inhaled his lips went blue. I immediately did the Heimlich. Five thrusts to the back. Nothing. I turned him over and laid him on the floor as I grabbed my phone to call 911.”
“All because of a stupid balloon”
Katie was on hold for a short time, while she began CPR on baby Justin. Once she got through, an ambulance arrived in three minutes and took over Justin’s care.
“But it was useless. The balloon had completely blocked his airway. When EMT arrived they were unable to establish an airway. It took them roughly 15 minutes to get the balloon out. By that time my baby had gone into cardiac arrest. They worked on him for 30 minutes at the hospital but it was too late. All because of a stupid balloon.”
Katie urges other parents to not only undertake first aid training so they can respond quickly if their child is in trouble but also to ban balloons from their homes.
“It’s not worth the enormous risk for a few minutes of fun,” she writes. “It’s not worth the horrible guilt that you will feel if something happens to your child. Now, all we have left are memories, pictures, and a few of his belongings. There is no pain greater than that of a grieving parent.”
Our thoughts are with this family as they come to terms with the loss of their beautiful boy.
Proper CPR and heimlich is something all parents need to learn. In an emergency situation you only have 3 to 4 minutes….
Lives lost due to ‘fun’ toy
Sadly, other children have died as result of playing with balloons, but it can be hard for parents to understand just how dangerous these ‘fun’ toys can be:
- Five-year-old Lily Breen died in 2008, after her parents found her unconscious with a balloon stuck in her airway.
- A two-year-old boy fatally choked on a balloon in April 2018.
- A two-year-old boy lost his life while playing with a balloon in 2015.
- An eight-year-old girl suffocated when she put a mylar balloon over her head.
- A 10-year-old girl inhaled a balloon and died in 2013.
And these are just a handful of cases reported by media. There are many that escape media scrutiny while leaving families devastated.
Balloons and children’s safety
- If you must have balloons, choose mylar balloons instead of latex balloons
- Keep un-inflated latex balloons well out of reach of children
- Supervise kids around balloons and remove any popped balloons immediately
- Avoid having water balloons in your home
- Note that long strings on balloons are also dangerous to children
- Teach children that balloons are a dangerous choking hazard
- Tell other parents how dangerous balloons can be
This article was originally published in 2018.
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