Neihana Renata was nearly 2 years old when he choked on an apple at his daycare center

By Jason Duaine Hahn
April 03, 2019 02:58 PM
Advertisement

Dozens of preschools in New Zealand changed their food policy after a toddler nearly suffocated on a piece of fruit at his daycare and was left permanently paralyzed, local outlets reported.

Neihana Renata was 22 months old in May 2016 when a piece of apple became lodged in his throat while he was eating at lunchtime, according to Stuff.co.nz.

While daycare supervisors tried to remove the fruit from his airway and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the young boy went into cardiac arrest for 30 excruciating minutes. Neihana would spend two weeks in intensive care and two months in the hospital.

Because Neihana’s brain went without oxygen for such a long time, the toddler who “loved to run and play outside, and was a great dancer” was left with severe motor disability and today he cannot talk, walk or move on his own, the outlet reported.

He is also now prone to chest infections and requires round-the-clock attention, and his mother, a doctor, has left her job to care for him.

Following the incident, the company that owns the daycare that was caring for Neihana when he choked has changed its food policy to keep hard fruits and vegetables away from children under 3 unless they are cooked, mashed and peeled. The change affects more than 100 of the company’s nurseries in the country.

Fruits and vegetables can become choking hazards for children
Getty

In a study that looked at figures between 2001 and 2009, it’s estimated 12,435 children ages 14 and younger were treated for choking on food each year in the United States, according to Reuters. In the investigation, researchers found candies caused just over one in four emergency room visits. This was followed by meat, bones and fruits and vegetables.

Pediatrician Dr. Jaime Friedman recently spoke with PEOPLE about the importance of checking for potential hazards in children’s meals, no matter how harmless the food may seem.

“Parents are surprised when they come in for their child’s 3-year check up and I still mention choking risks like grapes and popcorn. Most parents aren’t aware that we worry about choking up until age 4,” she said. “They seem pretty resistant to cutting grapes for their 3-year-olds.”

The AAP recently identified “mechanical airway obstruction” as the leading cause of unintentional death for children younger than 1, and the fourth most deadly for children ages 1 to 9 (surpassed by motor vehicle deaths, drowning and fire or burns).

If you ever find yourself in a situation when a child is choking, calling 911 or using the Heimlich Maneuver is the recommended, according to KidsHealth.