water beads
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
February 21, 2024 ·  4 min read

A baby swallowed a water bead and needed 5 surgeries. Mother Hopes Parents Stop Buying Them

Toys have come a long way, and these days they can do some really cool things. Water beads are one example. They are tiny solid balls made of food-grade silicone. When the water beads are soaked, they expand and become semi-squishy. The water beads are a great activity for kids three and up, particularly as a sensory activity. However, one mom urges parents to stop buying them. Read on to see why.

Folichia Mitchell, a mom of 4, shares that her daughter Kennedy has had 5 surgeries due to one of those water beads. Mitchell, who lives in Maine, tells INSIDER that baby Kennedy was just 10 months old when she had to have her first surgery. She says that she and her husband, David, felt both scared and relieved. It was helpful to know what it was that was making her sick. On the other hand, the idea that she’d need surgery was terrifying for the couple.

Learning the Problem was Water Beads

Two days before going in, Kennedy had her appetite and wanted her bottle. However, she was unable to keep anything down. Unbeknownst to the family, a water bead was obstructing her digestive tract. Neither Folichia nor David had any inkling their baby was sick. She didn’t have a fever, so they just thought maybe she was teething. After 2 days, she seemed to be getting worse.

When they took her to a hospital near their home in Berwick, doctors decided they would do an ultrasound to try and find the problem. By the time they got to the hospital, Mitchell recalls, “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.”

Image Credit: Folichia Mitchell

Undergoing the First Surgery

Unfortunately, the water bead had so much mayhem in Kennedy’s little body that surgery didn’t fix the problem. Folichia explains, “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 explained the process that Kennedy underwent, “She’s had platelet transfusions and is taking medications to try to prevent blood clots. She is being fed through a Nasogastric 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.”

After the first surgery, she went into septic shock. This means that she had an infection somewhere within her body. The condition is very dangerous and life-threatening if left untreated or if the person suffers from an auto-immune disorder. Septic shock is the third stage of a reaction to the infection and the most severe.

Read: This Image Shows Why You Should Cut Up Kids’ Grapes Before Serving

Water Beads Exacerbated the Condition

Kennedy was having trouble breathing on her own, and she was put on a ventilator. She also had some lab work done, in which doctors discovered she was having liver and kidney failure. Because Kennedy hadn’t responded well to the surgery, the surgeons thought they had missed some water beads and proceeded to operate again. Mitchell recalls, “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 further explains, “She did make it. But she continued to get sicker.”

Finally Seeing Progress

Fortunately, she had some response to the third surgery. According to Mitchell, “The third surgery allowed her intestines to get rid of the extra fluid and relieve the pressure on the rest of her organs.” During the surgery doctors had to take 6 inches of her intestines out, meaning she may have severe health and digestive problems in the future.

She has responded to the final surgeries and hasn’t had any more since November 10th, when she underwent her 5th surgery. According to the worry-stricken mom, ” 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.” She continues, “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.'”

Staying Informed

Folichia has since joined a campaign to warn others of the possible dangers of water beads. She says it has helped “me process everything that’s happened to Kennedy.” Water beads are a fun activity for older kids and can be a great sensory experience for kids with autism. However, like like anything in life, there are risks and downsides.

Infants, toddlers, and even small children learn and explore by putting things in their mouths. This is a healthy part of their development, so if you have different-aged children in your house, keep an extra close eye on your kids. Additionally, like Folichia, you can simply get rid of your water beads.

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