My baby swallowed a water bead and needed 5 surgeries. I hope other parents will stop buying the beads.
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Folichia Mitchell said she was shocked to learn her daughter's critical condition was caused by a water bead. Folichia Mitchell
A baby accidentally swallowed a water bead. It blocked her intestines and left her fighting for her life.
Her mother, Folichia Mitchell, wants to warn other parents about the dangers of pearls.
This is Mitchell's story as told to Jane Ridley.
This 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 intestines was blocked by a tiny round thing. They asked if she had somehow got hold of a marble or a bead.
I thought, "I don't have marbles in the house because all my kids are too small to play with marbles."
Then I remembered buying some water beads for my oldest son, Joshua, the week before. He is on the autism spectrum and I was hoping they could help with his sensory needs.
It was a shock. I couldn't imagine how Kennedy, who could barely crawl, managed to swallow one of the beads. You put them in water to make them puff up. I had placed them in a designated storage container for Joshua to play with on the kitchen table.
I was confused because Kennedy never sat at the table or played in the kitchen. But doctors said the clog was most likely a water bead because they could see it was filled with fluid.
My husband David and I were very scared when she had surgery to have it removed. It was scary to imagine her going under the knife at just 10 months old. But we were also relieved because we finally knew what made her so ill.
Mitchell said her daughter could barely crawl but managed to find and swallow a water bead. Folichia Mitchell
We thought, "They're doing surgery that's going to make her feel better." But that didn't happen.
I bought the beads on October 24th. Kennedy was hospitalized on November 1. She's had four more surgeries -- she had a 50/50 chance of surviving the third -- and she's still in the hospital.
She has had platelet transfusions and takes medication to prevent blood clots. She is fed through a neogastric tube that goes into her nose and straight into her stomach. Doctors will have to wait until she's older to look for neurological damage.
Once we knew what was causing this, David searched the house for other water beads. He rearranged the fridge and stove and checked the creases in the carpet. We were very scared for our 2 year old son Archie.
Kennedy worsened after her first surgery
Kennedy had shown signs of something wrong about two days before we took her to the hospital. She wanted her bottle, but she didn't really want to eat. She spat. I thought it might be teething. She didn't have a fever, so I didn't suspect she was sick.
We drove her to the hospital near our home in Berwick, Maine when she was completely lethargic. Then she started spitting up bile. They did an ultrasound on her abdomen and found the blockage. She was transferred to a Portland hospital and immediately operated on.
They took out the pearl. But as she lay in recovery, her heart rate rose to over 200, which is not normal for a child her age. She was breathing fast.
She went into septic shock. I cried, but more than anything I wanted to know what was going on. A social worker told us that Kennedy could not breathe on his own and was put on a ventilator. The surgeons thought they might have missed a few more beads, and there was still an impediment in there. But they found none during the second operation.
Mitchell bought the water beads for Joshua, one of her sons, who is shown here with his siblings Declan, Archie and Kennedy. Folichia Mitchell
The doctors came in to tell us they would do anything they could, but they weren't sure if she could do it.
She did it. But she kept getting sicker.
Her whole body swelled up. The doctors said if they didn't do something, she wouldn't live. Her lab tests showed that her kidneys and liver were failing. I thought, "Do whatever it takes 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 persevered minute by minute. Every 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 section of her small intestine.
Kennedy had her fifth surgery on November 10th. So far it's her last.
She was kept in a sterile environment and examined by specialists throughout all of her treatments. I could only put one of my fingers in her hand because it was still swollen. I would tell her, "I'm sorry you're sick. And I love you."
Mitchell bought the water beads from Target in October. Folichia Mitchell
Then I would say, "You are so strong. And I'm so proud of you. And I believe in you."
Four days later she was stable enough to be transferred from the pediatric intensive care unit to the regular children's ward. The doctors did an ultrasound of her spleen and gave her antibiotics.
I posted a TikTok video about Kennedy on November 3rd. I had no idea how to help my daughter. It was all in the hands of her doctors. I begged everyone to pray for her.
I've joined a campaign to warn about the dangers of water beads
Ever since we found out that the cause of their problems was ingesting a pearl, I've become more angry with the companies that make water pearls. The label says they should only be used by children over 3 years old. But manufacturers must add a warning that water pearls can cause a blockage in the digestive system that can lead to death.
I contacted Chuckle & Roar, the company that makes the beads I bought for $15. They responded to me with a generic response: "We hope your daughter is doing well. We assure you that the product meets all safety requirements.”
My TikTok went viral. A friend of mine set up GoFundMe to help our family. Many people have contacted us to say they have thrown away their water pearls or stopped buying them. The awareness campaign helps me process everything that happened to Kennedy.
Editor's note: Chuckle & Roar did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
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