A first-time mother and doctor from New Zealand, Marama Renata, sent her twins to daycare. She had no concerns about their safety. Then one day she got a call. The daycare staff was attempting to do CPR on her 22-month-old son, Neihana Renata. His twin sister Althea was with him as they sat down for afternoon tea. Suddenly, he started to choke on a slice of raw, peeled apple.
Marama rushed to the hospital to learn that her son had permanent brain damage. His body was starved of oxygen for half an hour as he went into cardiac arrest. Neihana was unresponsive for days in intensive care. Doctors weren’t sure he would survive, but he pulled through.
Today, he can’t walk, talk, or feed himself. He is left with hypoxic brain injury and severe cerebral palsy. Marama, who worked at a school clinic, decided to quit her job in order to devote herself to her son’s round-the-clock need for care.
“Neihana needs constant care. He needs help with everything,” explains Marama.
“We got told that we basically have a boy that can breathe,” said the child’s father, Wi Renata. “He could open his eyes but there was nothing there. He could just breathe.”
Neihana Renata was 22-months old when a piece of apple became lodged in his throat. He has been left with brain damage and severe cerebral palsy. https://t.co/wKzC1OIovP
— Nine.com.au (@Ninecomau) April 4, 2019
Following the incident, investigators started to question how the youngster could have been left permanently disabled. Why had the Little Lights Early Learning Centre in Rotorua served toddlers slices of raw apple, when it is known that hard foods served in that manner can be hazardous or deadly for toddlers?
“There are children that could choke tomorrow and nothing is being done to prevent it from happening again,” said Marama.
“I feel frustrated, absolutely frustrated. Nothing is being done when something can be done,” said Wi.
Today, Neihana has made progress. Even though he is paralyzed he still smiles and enjoys time with his family. His sister wishes he were able to run and play with her again.
“It makes me feel good knowing that I can see him laughing,” says Wi.
“He has made a lot of progress since the accident and is a generally smiley boy but he is severely disabled and can’t walk, talk, roll,” Marama told Australian news.
“A lot of effort is put into maintaining normal body alignment and muscle length,” she explains.
Following the death of a child from eating an apple, the Ministry of Health in New Zealand issued new guidelines to reduce the risk of choking. For hard foods like apples, carrots, and celery, they recommend grating or cooking the food first.
Wi Renata complimented the Ministry of Health on their “awesome” recommendations, but says, “they’re not enforced.”
The parents are asking for daycare centers to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines. They do not call for a ban on apples, only that they are safely prepared so that no child should end up permanently disabled like Neihana.
Work Safe, a health and safety regulator, investigated what happened. They determined that the only failure from the daycare was in serving sliced, peeled, raw apple. The staff had followed all other legal guidelines, ensuring kids were seated and supervised while eating, and that a staff member trained in first aid was present.
Another investigation questioned the first aid given to Neihana. The staff had done a mouth sweep with a finger to attempt to remove the obstruction.
Sarah Alexander, with Child Forum, an early childhood education and care network explained:
“They placed their finger into the child’s mouth to try to pull the object out, but they couldn’t see the object. Now that in itself is a risk of pushing the object further in,” said Alexander.
Alexander has questioned why the government has not done more to warn parents about the potential for daycares to serve kids high-risk foods like raw apples, as well as why parents are not informed about incidents like the one that forever changed Neihana Renata’s life.
“There is no record that this incident ever occured. Parents may leave their child at a service none the wiser as to what its history has been,” said Alexander.
“Why isn’t the Ministry warning parents? There is potential for their child to be served food that is high risk of choking. To me, this is a serious breach of trust,” she continued.
Nearly a year after Neihana choked, the daycare owned by Evolve Education Group finally stopped serving raw hard fruits and vegetables to the toddlers in their care. The incident happened in May 2016 but it has taken all this time for the story to be made public.
According to 9Honey, the company never formally contacted the parents after the accident or let them know about the changes to the way they serve food.
Marama says she doesn’t blame the daycare staff, but as a doctor, she would have been prepared for the best first aid procedures. Watch the video below for her advice.
Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube