Toddler bleeds to death after swallowing button battery that burned through the 23-month-old’s organs as his North Carolina paramedic parents battled to save his life
- Johnathan Huff, just 23 months old, died after he ingested a tiny button battery from a remote control
- Toddler died just four days after eating the battery without his parents noticing
- His paramedic parents believe the button battery was from a keyfinder remote they kept on a high countertop
A toddler bled to death after swallowing the tiny battery from a remote control that burned through his organs – as his paramedic parents battled to save his life at their North Carolina home.
Johnathan Huff, who was just 23 months old, ingested a button battery that spent four days burning through his oesophagus, intestines and aorta causing catastrophic bleeding.
The fire truck-loving tot, who was affectionately known as Nugget, died on December 20th just four days after eating the disposable battery without his parents noticing.
Johnathan Huff, who was 23 months old, bled to death after swallowing the tiny battery from a remote control that burned through his organs
His paramedic parents Jackie Huff (right) and AJ Huff (left) battled to save toddler Johnathon Huff’s life (bottom right) at their North Carolina home as his big brother Michael Huff, four, watched on (bottom left)
His parents – physician assistant Jackie Huff, 35, and 34-year-old paramedic AJ Huff – initially thought he had a viral infection that was causing occasional nosebleeds and a raised temperature.
But after two trips to the doctor Johnathan started vomiting vast amounts of blood, appeared to be fitting and then fell unconscious at home.
AJ started performing CPR on the tiny tot as Jackie desperately blew rescue breaths while waiting for ambulance crews, but tragically Johnathan died.
An autopsy report revealed a button battery in Johnathan’s intestines that Jackie believes was from a keyfinder remote they kept on a countertop 4.5ft from the ground.
Johnathan, who was affectionately known as Nugget, died on December 20th just four days after eating the disposable battery without his parents noticing. Pictured: The type of battery in the remote that Johnathan swallowed
Johnathan’s heartbroken parents are now sharing their ordeal to urge families to ensure button batteries are stored out of children’s reach and tape up their remotes to avoid more tragedies
Button Batteries: What should I do if my child swallows a button battery?
Button batteries, also called button cell batteries or coin batteries, are extremely dangerous to children if swallowed, and can be found in toys, remote controls, car keys, musical greetings cards, and small electronic devices such as calculators and weighing scales.
Although a child may not choke, if undetected the batteries can do serious damage to the gastrointestinal system. When combined with saliva, the electrical current from the battery produces caustic soda that burns through the throat or stomach and can cause further damage to other internal organs.
What should I do if my child swallows a button battery?
If your child swallows a button battery, seek medical advice immediately. Remember that the saliva in their body will react with the battery and so time is very much of the essence in these cases.
Johnathan’s heartbroken parents are now sharing their ordeal to urge families to ensure button batteries are stored out of children’s reach and tape up their remotes to avoid more tragedies.
Jackie, from Greensboro, North Carolina, said: ‘Johnathan’s passing has been devastating.
‘It’s not the way that life’s supposed to go. As morbid as it sounds, Johnathan should be picking where we would be buried, hopefully decades from now, not the other way round.
‘How do you pick a nice spot in the ground for your child?
‘When we had Johnathan after [his four-year-old brother] Michael my mommy heart was complete.
‘It’s just such a shocking blow to go from being this perfect little family to neither of us having any idea what we’re supposed to do now.’
On Wednesday December 16th, the day the couple believe Johnathan swallowed the battery, they woke both children 20 minutes before they needed to leave for day care and, as usual, tag-teamed getting each child ready.
Mum-of-two Jackie believes that at some point during the morning rush, while their backs were briefly turned, Johnathan somehow got hold of the battery and swallowed it.
Jackie said: ‘AJ and I have gone over in our heads a million times and we have no idea, we can only imagine it was during that 20-minute time span.
‘At some point one of us didn’t have eyes on him. We know all this now because of how everything played out but the assumption is that the battery came from that remote.
‘We kept all remotes up out of their reach on a bar counter about 4.5 feet up. I stuck all the remotes in a little pail to keep them together.
‘The back of the remote was off when we found it but of course the battery wasn’t in there.
An autopsy report revealed a button battery in Johnathan’s intestines that Jackie believes was from a keyfinder remote (pictured) they kept on a countertop 4.5ft from the ground
‘There’s no way it fell off the counter but Johnathan had only just got tall enough to use the barstool to reach up to it.
‘There’s no lock on the remote back, one little tiny push and it falls right off.’
On that Wednesday morning, Johnathan walked happily hand-in-hand with big brother Michael to day care and appeared fine up until lunchtime.
During his post-lunch nap at around midday, teachers noticed he suffered a nosebleed before vomiting blood.
Paramedics rushed to the scene and after examining the tot came to the conclusion that blood from his nose had trickled down his throat, irritated his stomach and caused the vomiting.
They advised he visit a paediatrician to be checked over.
Jackie said: ‘He seemed perfectly fine while we were getting him ready.
‘Michael’s big brother duty was to walk Johnathan inside school, he would hold his hand and walk him down the hallway to class.
‘During naptime the teacher said he was asleep for about ten minutes and then they discovered he had a puddle of blood around his face, around the size of a dinner plate.
Jackie (left) with her sons Johnathan (bottom left) and Michael (centre) and husband AJ (right)
‘When the teacher called and said he was vomiting blood my heart stopped. I’m less than a minute’s drive from the school so I dropped everything at work and drove over there.
‘I beat the ambulance and when I got there he was sat in one of the teacher’s lap, he looked very pale and really tired, but his vital signs looked good.
‘The paramedics said it was a nosebleed and that the blood probably dripped down his nose, down the back of his throat and irritated his stomach, made him nauseous and throw up.
‘It’s a reasonable explanation and it’s exactly what I would say as a medical professional, 100%.’
Johnathan was checked out by a paediatrician who agreed that was the likely explanation but that if anything changed to come back.
On Thursday, Johnathan had a good day at day care only appearing tired during the last ten minutes of class.
On that Wednesday morning, Johnathan walked happily hand-in-hand with big brother Michael to day care and appeared fine up until lunchtime. Pictured: Johnathan (right) with his brother Michael, four (left)
That evening Johnathan’s temperature shot up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit so they gave him some medicine and decided to take him back to the paediatrician the following day.
The paediatrician suggested it may be a viral illness that gave him the nosebleed, irritated his nasal passages and was now presenting as a fever.
Johnathan was swabbed for covid, had a chest x-ray at the hospital to rule out pneumonia and was believed to be suffering from a common infection called bronchiolitis.
The physician sent him home and advised Johnathan needed to stay hydrated and rest and if his condition worsened to come back.
Jackie said: ‘When the doctor called me and said to take it easy and keep him hydrated through the weekend, sounded good to me.
‘There was no battery on that x-ray picture, the only explanation is that the battery must have already travelled lower than the chest at this point.’
Jackie and AJ spent Saturday watching over Johnathan as he watched his favourite TV show and enjoyed some snacks.
On Wednesday December 16th, the day the couple believe Johnathan swallowed the battery, they woke both children 20 minutes before they needed to leave for day care and, as usual, tag-teamed getting each child ready. Pictured: Johnathan the day before he died
Jackie said: ‘We spent all day on Saturday snuggled on the couch and watched his favourite TV show – he absolutely loved Bubble Guppies.
‘Johnathan was tired but nothing else. His fever seemed to break midway through the day on Saturday and he wanted some Dorito chips, which we thought was a good sign that his little appetite was back.’
Johnathan fell asleep that night fine but the following morning woke up with a raised temperature and coughed up some blood.
Jackie said: ‘He’d been sitting snuggled up on my lap since he woke up then at about 6.45am he coughed really hard, jumped out of my lap and coughed up blood.
‘I looked up both nostrils and down his throat with a flashlight and I didn’t see any blood at all, then he started smiling and seemed fine.’
AJ was supposed to go into work on Sunday and do a 24-hour shift but decided to stay home.
Jackie said: ‘We put him down to nap but at around 9am I heard him cough really hard on the monitor.
‘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.
‘I pulled my phone out to get directions to the nearest hospital and while AJ was holding Johnathan I glanced over at him and he was posturing like he was having a seizure.
Following the ambulance, Jackie was driven by a sheriff but by the time she arrived Johnathan had already died
‘AJ said he could feel him go limp in his arms. His hands drew up, his lips turned blue and he was unconscious.
‘AJ called 911 while I held him. Neither of us were freaking out yet because once again we’ve been in this situation with other families throughout our careers.
‘We knew it was serious, we knew he needed to go to the ER.
‘Our professional instincts kicked in, I kept his airway open and checked his pulse – just doing a normal assessment head to toe.
‘I then handed him over to AJ and that was when he said Johnathan’s pulse slowly started going down.
‘He could feel his heart beating and then it was beating slower and slower and his heart stopped.
‘He just went into full-blown paramedic mode, if you lose a heartbeat you start CPR and that’s exactly what he did.
‘Johnathan was small enough to do CPR where you hold the child round the chest and use your thumbs.
Pictured: Johnathan’s grave where his parents placed his fireman’s hat and toy axe
‘AJ gave compressions and I did the rescue breathing. I pinched his nose and I blew air but when I blew the air down into his lungs it was like blowing under water.
‘There was no air going in and when I took my mouth off bright red blood just gurgled out of him.
‘We rolled him over on our bed to make sure we cleared his airways a couple of times, this went on for three minutes until paramedics arrived, but it felt like hours.’
Ambulance staff carried out emergency medical care and then rushed him and AJ to Moses H. Cone Hospital in North Carolina by ambulance.
Following the ambulance, Jackie was driven by a sheriff but by the time she arrived Johnathan had already died.
Jackie said: ‘I ran into the hospital and AJ was standing there with a chaplain from the hospital.
‘The ER doctor immediately walked over to me and started the speech, the speech that I’ve given people so many times.
‘I knew as soon as he started talking, from the tone of his voice and him saying ‘we’ve done everything that we can’, I knew that he was dead. I just broke down.
‘The nurses said that they tried to draw blood for labs but he had no blood in his body anymore, none.’
Due to the nature of Johnathan’s sudden death, Jackie and AJ spoke to police officers before driving to stay with relatives in Kentucky.
An autopsy revealed a battery was found in Johnathan’s intestines and the cause of death was recorded as haemorrhage into the gastrointestinal tract and esophageal and aortic wall erosion.
Jackie said: ‘When we heard they discovered the button battery we were in shock.
‘It immediately felt like it was something we had done, we were desperately trying to figure out where this battery had come from.
‘It wasn’t a long search. We went to where we kept the remotes and discovered the key finder remote’s back was off.
‘We hadn’t seen it and we had no idea the battery was missing, we blamed ourselves.
‘You drive yourself crazy thinking of every possible scenario, now we’ve talked enough to know it wasn’t our fault and that it was an accident.
‘From the research I’ve done the battery was stuck at the distal esophagus and then the chemicals burned through the tissue.
‘That ended up burning his aorta, which is why he died so quickly.
‘I think the initial bleed was just the tissue, the oesophagus damage, which is why we didn’t see any blood for three days.
‘I’m guessing the battery had dropped down into his stomach, which is why we didn’t see it on the x-ray.
‘The damage from those batteries can cause damage for days and I think that’s what happened.
‘It was eroding through and when it hit the aorta on Sunday that was it, there was nothing else that could be done.’
The devastated couple lay their son to rest in Kentucky on December 27th, one week after he tragically passed away.
Due to his love of fire trucks, the community rallied together and as the family processed from the funeral home to the cemetery four fire trucks and two ambulances joined them on his final journey.
Jackie said: ‘Johnathan’s funeral was a blur, it still is. I’ve been telling people that our entire life is on pause at the moment.
‘Michael was in the room with us while we were doing CPR so he witnessed all of it.
‘Of course he doesn’t have any clue what death is, we’ve told him Johnathan is in heaven with baby Jesus. Michael says ‘when he’s done playing with him, he’ll come back’.
‘On the one hand it’s comforting he sees it so simplistically but of course knowing that’s not happening is devastating.’
The couple are sharing Johnathan’s story so that no other family goes through what they have.
Jackie said: ‘I just want to make every parent aware of the dangers and make people realise just how many devices have these batteries all over your home.
‘In this case, the back of the remote slides right off, it wasn’t screwed down.
‘After this happened we started doing research into it, something as simple as putting duct tape over the back of the remote could have stopped this.
‘Duct tape is hard for adults to get off, a two-year-old is not going to be able to open it.
‘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.’
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