In October, Maja Djukic was rollerblading in Greenwich, Connecticut, US, when she heard a woman screaming for help. Djukic, an assistant professor at New York University College of Nursing, rushed to a nearby house to find 19-month-old Griffin Greene limp and blue. He had inhaled a Goldfish cracker, and his mother’s attempts to dislodge it by holding the toddler upside down and slapping his back had failed.
While the child’s father called 911, Djukic performed chest compressions, she recalled in an interview. By the time the ambulance arrived — about four minutes later — Griffin was breathing again and crying. Although he needed treatment to extract the cracker, which had become lodged in his lungs, Griffin is now fine thanks to the quick action of a passer-by.
Not every child who chokes is so lucky. Choking is the fourth-leading cause of unintentional deaths in children under age 5; every five days, at least one child dies after choking on food.
The trachea, or windpipe, of a young child is about the width of a drinking straw, and if food or a small object is inhaled instead of swallowed, it can block the airway. Even when something is swallowed and becomes lodged in a child’s throat or oesophagus, it may compress the trachea enough to impair breathing. After just four minutes without oxygen, a child’s brain can be permanently damaged.
Nearly every day,I see a statistic in the making among small children in my neighbourhood. Under the care of a parent, grandparent or nanny, they are routinely given all manner of snacks and allowed to run back to their activities — while still chewing. It is a disaster waiting to happen, and sometimes I can’t resist saying aloud that the child should not get up until his food has been thoroughly chewed and his mouth is empty.
A child should not eat in a moving vehicle, either. If the driver stops short or the vehicle is bumped from behind, the sudden lurch may cause a child to inhale food or to swallow it unchewed.
Nearly a third of choking cases in children are caused by objects.