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Toddler chokes on apple at day care, now paralyzed

Neihana Renata was 22 months old when he went into cardiac arrest

Stock photo (Pexels)

A toddler went into cardiac arrest for 30 minutes, resulting in severe cerebral palsy, after choking on a piece of raw apple at his day care, news outlets in New Zealand reported this week.

The scare took place in May 2016, when Neihana Renata was 22 months old, at the Little Lights Kindy nursery in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Neihana is now paralyzed and brain-damaged. He was hospitalized for two months as he recovered from the choking incident.

Neihana was just recently featured on the news program “Sunday,” which is part of TV-NZ, a New Zealand public broadcast service.

In the aftermath of the emergency, “We basically got told we have a boy that can breathe,” said Wi Renata, Neihana’s father. “(He was) still -- no movements. He could open his eyes, but there was nothing there. He could just breathe.”

MSN reports that prior to the incident, the boy loved to run, dance and play outside. Now he can’t walk, talk or move his body. Neihana makes frequent trips to the hospital and he’s prone to chest infections. He needs constant care.

Published reports say day care teachers attempted to remove the lodged chunk of fruit from the boy’s mouth, and perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But the cardiac arrest starved his brain of oxygen.

“Staff at the (center) did all they could to help this little boy,” said Katrina Casey, deputy secretary sector enablement and support for the Ministry of Health, according to the MSN story.

Casey said a report showed the day care followed first aid and supervision guidelines, had trained staffers on hand and called emergency services immediately. 

The whole situation led to more than 120 preschools across New Zealand changing their food protocols. Evolve Education Group updated its policy in 2017, a year after the incident, reports say.

“Apple and other hard fruits and vegetables are now only served to under-3s if they are peeled and grated, cooked or mashed,” the New Zealand website Stuff reports. “This is in line with Ministry of Health guidelines.”

Science News in 2016 wrote a news story about baby-led weaning, which is when babies eat solid foods instead of spoon-fed purees, and they feed themselves.

Scientists said the practice is safe, if done right. Babies aren’t any more likely to choke eating solids, according to Science News.

Read more about the difference between gagging and choking, and how to make sure your baby or toddler is eating safely, if you’re concerned about his or her feeding practices.


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