scorecardMy baby swallowed a water bead and needed 5 surgeries. I hope other parents will stop buying the beads.
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My baby swallowed a water bead and needed 5 surgeries. I hope other parents will stop buying the beads.

Jane Ridley   

My baby swallowed a water bead and needed 5 surgeries. I hope other parents will stop buying the beads.
LifeScience5 min read
  • A baby accidentally swallowed a water bead. It blocked her bowel and left her fighting for her life.
  • Her mom, Folichia Mitchell, wants to warn other parents about the dangers of the beads.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Folichia Mitchell. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When the doctors examined my baby's ultrasound, they saw that part of her bowel was blocked by a tiny circular thing. They asked if she'd somehow gotten hold of a marble or a bead.

I thought, "I don't have any marbles in the house because all my kids are too little to play with marbles."

Then I remembered I'd bought some water beads for my oldest son, Joshua, the week before. He's on the autism spectrum, and I'd hoped they might help with his sensory needs.

It was a shock. I couldn't imagine how Kennedy, who was barely crawling, had managed to swallow one of the beads. You put them in water so they inflate. I'd put them in a designated storage bin so Joshua could play with them on the kitchen table.

I was confused because Kennedy never sat at the table or played in the kitchen. But the doctors said the blockage was more than likely a water bead because they could see it was filled with fluid.

My husband, David, and I were terrified when she was taken into surgery to have it removed. It was scary to think she was going under the knife when she was only 10 months old. But we also had a sense of relief, because we finally knew what was making her so sick.

We thought, "They're doing a surgery that's going to make her feel better." But it didn't turn out like that.

I bought the beads on October 24. Kennedy was admitted to the hospital on November 1. She's had four more operations — she was given a 50-50 chance of surviving the third — and she's still in the hospital.

She's had platelet transfusions and is taking medications to try to prevent blood clots. She is being fed through a Neogastric tube, that goes in her nose and down directly into her stomach. The doctors will have to wait until she's older to check for neurological damage.

As soon as we knew what had caused this, David searched the house for other water beads. He moved the fridge and the oven and checked in the creases of the carpet. We were terrified for our 2-year-old son, Archie.

Kennedy took a turn for the worse after her first surgery

Kennedy had shown signs of something wrong about two days before we brought her to the hospital. She wanted her bottle, but she wouldn't really eat. She was spitting up. I thought it might be teething. She didn't have a fever, so I didn't suspect that she was sick.

We drove her to the hospital near our home in Berwick, Maine, when she was full-blown lethargic. Then she started to spit up bile. They did an ultrasound on her stomach and found the blockage. She was transferred to a hospital in Portland and immediately had surgery.

They took out the bead. But as she lay in the recovery room, her heart rate was elevated past 200, which is not normal for a child her age. She was breathing fast.

She went into septic shock. I was crying, but more than anything I wanted to know what was happening. A social worker told us Kennedy couldn't breathe on her own and was being put on a ventilator. The surgeons thought they might have missed some more beads and there was still an obstruction in there. But they didn't find any during the second surgery.

The doctors came in to tell us that they were going to do everything they could but they weren't sure if she'd make it.

She did make it. But she continued to get sicker.

Her whole body became swollen. The doctors said that if they did nothing, she was not going to live. Her lab work indicated that her kidneys and liver were failing. I thought, "Do whatever you think you need to do to save her."

The third surgery allowed her intestines to get rid of the extra fluid and relieve the pressure on the rest of her organs.

I felt like I was dying. I was holding on from minute to minute. Each half-hour that passed, I asked myself, "Is she still alive?" The world stopped.

The operation was a success. But during the surgery, they had to take out a 6-inch stretch of her small intestine.

Kennedy had her fifth surgery on November 10. As of now, it's her last.

She was kept in a sterile environment during all her treatments and seen by specialists. I could put only one of my fingers in her hand because she was still swollen. I'd tell her: "I'm sorry that you're sick. And I love you."

Then I'd say: "You're so strong. And I'm so proud of you. And I believe in you."

Four days later, she was stable enough to be moved from the pediatric ICU to the regular children's unit. The doctors did an ultrasound on her spleen and are giving her antibiotics.

I posted a TikTok video about Kennedy on November 3. I had no idea how to help my daughter. It was all in her doctors' hands. I pleaded with everybody to pray for her.

I've joined a campaign to warn about the dangers of water beads

Since we found the cause of her issues was from ingesting a bead, I've become angrier with the companies who make water beads. The label says they should be used only by kids over 3. But the makers have got to add a warning that water beads could cause a blockage in the digestive system that could lead to death.

I contacted Chuckle & Roar, the company making the beads I bought for $15. They got back to me with a generic response: "We hope your daughter is OK. We assure you that the product has passed all of its safety requirements."

My TikTok went viral. One of my friends set up a GoFundMe to help our family. Many people have contacted us to say they've thrown away their water beads or have stopped buying them. The campaign to raise awareness is helping me process everything that's happened to Kennedy.

Editor's note: Target, where the water beads were purchased, said they have removed the product from shelves and online stores.

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