Texas surgeon warns parents about potentially fatal expanding polymer balls
SAN ANTONIO (WOAI) - Ashley Haugen noticed her 13-month-old toddler's unusual behavior the morning of July 3.
"She started having a lot of vomiting, projectile vomiting," Haugen said.
The unexplainable symptoms lasted all day and by that evening, Haugen had taken baby Kipley to a local emergency room.
"Right before they took her into surgery, they said, 'We don't know what we're going in for, what we're going to do - exploratory surgery,'" Haugen said. "'We don't know what we're gonna find.'"
The surgery lasted a couple hours. The surgeon found a mass that was actually pieces of firm, gelatinous material. Haugen said she recognized them immediately as the water beads her 6-year-old daughter played with.
The superabsorbent polymer balls or beads are tiny when they come out of the package, but once submerged in water they have the capacity to grow in size.
The problem with ingesting them is that they are not always easily digested.
"We have an object that continues to grow even though it may have started small enough to get inside the stomach, it can still keep growing in size and now get blocked in the intestines," said Texas Children's Hospital pediatric surgeon Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye.
Olutoye did not operate on Kipley but performed a similar operation in 2012 on an eight-month-old-baby.
"We brought out that loop of bowel and had to open up the intestines to get it out," Olutoye said. "You could see at the time that the intestines were stretched and distended but fortunately hadn't ruptured yet."
Olutoye was able to save the baby, but his level of concern for other children was so significant that he published a report about his findings in a pediatric journal. Shortly thereafter, a manufacturer of the water balls issued a recall.
"I think it's important for parents to be aware that these objects can be quite harmful," Olutoye said.
The report was issued five years ago and yet Haugen said she was able to buy a very similar product online this past spring.
News 4 Trouble Shooters did a quick online search and found many different versions of the superabsorbent polymer balls being sold under many different names.
"I think it's important for families to know the concerns that are out there," Olutoye said. "It's a little distressing to me to see the problem several years after we got the word out for it."
There is a new expanding material toy standard this year to help minimize the risk of intestinal blockage.
If you want to file a complaint about superabsorbent polymer balls under any name or brand, you can contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or report directly to the website.