Mum warns of popular toy after daughter almost dies: 'My life changed forever'

A mum has warned about the dangers of water beads — a popular sensory toy — after her 10-month-old almost lost her life after swallowing one belonging to her brother.

Folichia Mitchell, from the US state of Maine, said her daughter Kennedy became lethargic and started vomiting on November 1 before rushing her to hospital for treatment.

At first, Ms Mitchell said she assumed it was food related, having just introduced her to new foods. It was only after being transported to a larger children's hospital that she learned the truth — there was a large mass in her stomach. The panicked mum was "shocked and devasted" to learn her daughter had ingested one of the small, coloured beads that she'd bought her autistic son, who's almost nine, just days earlier.

Baby Kennedy Mitchell in hospital.
Kennedy Mitchell almost lost her life after swallowing a water bead, which expanded and blocked her small intestines. Source: TikTok/GMA

Water beads are designed to absorb liquid and "can expand to the size of a golf ball," the ACCC has warned. This is up to 400 times their original size, proving troublesome when swallowed — which is what happened to young Kennedy without her parents knowing.

50 per cent chance of survival

The infant was rushed into emergency surgery to remove the worrying object which had caused an intestinal blockage. But by then, damage to her intestine had already been done and a number of complications followed, including organ failure, septic shock and the threat of blood clots. She was also struggling to breathe.

The 10-month-old underwent an additional four surgeries to treat infections that had been caused by the blockage. At this point, doctors warned Ms Mitchell that her daughter might not make it. Kennedy had a 50/50 chance of surviving, her mum revealed on TikTok, admitting her "life changed forever" on November 1.

Bowl of water beads.
Water beads are a popular sensory children's toy that starts off small and expands (pictured) when in contact with liquid. Source: Getty

"Her life was being ripped away from me after swallowing just one water bead," she said. Ms Mitchell told Good Morning America the thought never crossed her mind. She ensured they were hidden in a safe place and she "never saw her near them".

"From reading the package, I saw they're good for sensory so I thought he'd really love them," she said. "I was not worried about that at all. That never had crossed my mind the whole time that she was not feeling well and deteriorating."

Posting an update on social media, Ms Mitchell said her daughter is finally "looking more herself every day". Kennedy spent two weeks in the ICU and while her "life is not at risk" anymore, she remains in hospital.

Now, Ms Mitchel remains determined to have water beads banned, and is warning parents of the potential dangers. She bought hers from Target in the US, but the product has since been removed the store confirmed to US media.

Folichia Mitchell and daughter Kennedy with Xray scans showing large round mass.
Kennedy's mum Folichia said her doctors found a large mass in her stomach. Source: TikTok

ACCC warns against water beads

In Australia, the ACCC warned of water beads as early as 2015 after three Australian children required medical attention after swallowing them.

"The products are small and colourful and can be attractive to young children, who naturally place items in their mouths at early stages of their development," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said at the time.

"Once ingested, just one ball can expand inside a child's body and cause intestinal obstruction, vomiting, severe discomfort and dehydration and may need to be surgically removed,” Ms Rickard said.

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