Mum shares devastating story of toddler's death from mystery illness

Nadine Carroll
·3-min read

A devastated mother has shared how her youngest son died from an illness that effects about 20 Australian children every week.

When Jackie Huff said goodbye to her son, Johnathan Huff, as she dropped him off for daycare on December 16 he was his usual happy self, however by lunchtime childcare workers had called paramedics.

The 23-month-old boy had a nosebleed and was vomiting blood. First responders examined the toddler and advised his parents to take him to a paediatrician believing that his blood from his nosebleed had tricked down his throat and triggered the vomiting.

Johnathan Huff dressed as a firefighter (left) and resting after being sick (right).
Johnathan Huff (pictured) began showing signs of a mystery illness, four days later he had died. Source: Facebook

“It’s a reasonable explanation and it’s exactly what I would say as a medical professional, 100 per cent,” Ms Huff, a physician’s assistant from the US state of North Carolina, told the Metro.

Over the next 24 hours Johnathan appeared fine before his temperature climbed and his parents took him back to the GP.

After an X-ray revealed nothing and and a negative Covid-19 test, Johnathan was sent home with doctors saying he was suffering from a common infection called bronchiolitis and instructing the parents to keep him hydrated and rested.

Child vomited ‘bright red blood’

On December 20, AJ Huff, Johnathan’s father who is a paramedic took the day off work to stay home with his son, who was again coughing up blood and had a high temperature.

The concerned parents put their son to bed to rest, a few minutes later they heard Johnathan coughing “really hard” on the baby monitor and went to check on him.

“I picked him up, then he coughed again and vomited bright red blood all down my shirt. It was a lot, it was very shocking,” Ms Huff said.

As the couple were preparing to take their son to hospital, the toddler lost consciousness.

Ms Huff said her husband began chest compressions going into “full-blown paramedic mode” and she focused on Johnathan’s breathing.

An ambulance arrived and AJ accompanied his son in the ambulance to hospital.

Ms Huff was driven to the hospital by a sheriff but by the time she arrived, Johnathan had died.

Autopsy reveals solves mystery behind illness

It wasn’t until an autopsy was completed that the cause of death was found.

A button battery was found in Johnathan’s intestines.

The Huff family, who lost their toddler son from ingesting a button battery
Jackie Huff (left) with her two sons, Johnathan and Micheal. AJ Huff (right) with Jonathan. Source: Facebook

His parents believe it was a battery from a small remote they kept on a high countertop away from their two children.

It is thought Johnathan swallowed the battery before daycare on December 16 and for four days it had burned through his organs.

Ms Huff shared the heartbreaking loss on Facebook in an effort to educate others on how dangerous the small batteries can be if ingested.

"I can't bring back Johnathan, but if there is anything I can do to make more parents search through their homes, then that's something,” she said.

Australia introduces mandatory safety standards

On December 22 Australia became the first country in the world to introduce a mandatory safety and information standards for products containing button batteries.

Australian mum, Allison Rees with her daughter Isabella who died after ingesting button batteries. Source: Supplied
Australian mum, Allison Rees with her daughter Isabella who died after ingesting button batteries. Source: Supplied

The Australian Government standard requires secure battery compartments to stop children from accessing the batteries, compliance testing to demonstrate the batteries are secure, warnings and emergency advice on packaging, as well as child-resistant packaging for higher risk batteries.

It’s a small win for parents like Melbourne’s Allison Rees who has been advocating for mandatory button battery standards since she lost her 14-month-old daughter Isabella after she swallowed a button battery.

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