While dining with his parents, Abigail Wilson and David Jenkins, Jacob choked on a grape at a Pizza Hut in Hartlepool Marina, England, last Friday. Paramedics were called to the scene after the grape became lodged in the toddler's throat, causing his heart to stop. Wilson recounts that her son was "gone" for at least 30 minutes before paramedics revived him. The grape stuck in Jacob's throat had to be removed by paramedics with surgical scissors.
Now Jacob has been in a coma for almost a week after being induced on Friday night. Wilson told the Mirror that her "strong, determined, stubborn little boy" is still in critical condition, though it does not seem that he will pull through. A Go Fund Me page has been created for the family to provide for living expenses while they wait for Jacob to fight for his life.
For parents of young children, this story is especially alarming. Once a child gets past a certain age where they are able to eat on their own — about 2 years old, like Jacob — grapes become a staple as a healthy and convenient snack. The CDC estimates that choking rates are the highest for babies under the age of 1, which is exactly why most parents deactivate their "choking sonar" by the time a child turns 2.
It's hard to tell exhausted parents of young children that the hypervigilant years aren't over yet (and may not be over any time soon), but the reality is that choking risk extends far beyond the first year, as we saw in Jacob's tragic story. A 2013 Pediatrics study confirmed that 60 percent of food choking cases happened among children under 4 years old. The University of Michigan Health System reminds us that even the basic choking safety tips we learned in childbirth class apply to kids up to the age of 7 years. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choking is the leading cause of injury and death among children ages 3 and younger.
As parents, this all comes down to awareness. While it's possible for an adult to choke on a grape, a serious choking incident where food gets lodged in the throat is much more likely to happen in a child. To address this heightened risk, the AAP released a new choking policy in 2010. The AAP now recommends that manufacturers use warning labels or redesign "chokable" foods for young children, while urging parents to learn choking first aid and to watch for high-risk foods. The AAP says that hot dogs, hard candy, nuts, chunks of meat and cheese, peanut butter, popcorn, marshmallows, chunks of raw fruits and vegetables, chewing gum and whole grapes should not be fed to children under 4.
But the odds are that your child will encounter at least one of these choking foods in the real world before their fourth birthday. It's more than common to see dangerous foods like hot dogs and grapes on a restaurant kids' menu or packed in sack lunches at school. It's times like these when all parents and teachers can benefit from knowing CPR and the Heimlich maneuver — sign up for a local class, or take a refresher course online.
Jacob's heartbreaking story is a warning for any parent who may have thought the coast was clear. No, we don't have to live in fear of our child eating a grape, but we do have to stay alert. As the AAP reminds us, it's not just babies who are at risk of choking. Choking prevention applies to all kids for the first seven years.
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