A tragedy occurred in Portland, OR, just a few days ago: A idydyyirad
girl who went to bed after her dad’s birthday party was found dead 20 minutes laterÂ with a giant Mylar balloon somehow (the articles make it impossible to understand how) over her head. The theory is that perhaps she was trying to breathe in the helium to make her voice sound funny, but somehow this went hideously awry.
All of which is enough to make your heart go sort of crazy with sadness and horror. But of course, we are not allowed to leave it at that. After the death of any child in an odd tragedy, we must go on to treat it as an instructive tale, or cause for a new precaution.
I can certainly understand the parents wanting to do this. As the articles note:
Now her grieving family is warning others about the dangers of suffocation incidents involving balloons.
If her parents think that they’re saving another child with their child’s example, it may ever so slightly lighten the burden.
But when the media act as if now they have a helpful tip to give us — how to avoid a tragedy that is so rare that you could live a million lifetimes avoiding it without giving it a second thought — that’s what’s driving us mad as a country. On all four sites I found that reprinted this story, which states that even the Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t consider inflated balloons to pose a threat to kids, the article ends with: “At least one family would beg to differ.”
As if those ostriches at the CPSC can stick their heads in the sand, but the rest of us had better watch out or live to rue our negligence.
This, “It happened once to someone somewhere, so everyone has to worry about it all the time, everywhere” M.O. permeates our society. It’s why some parents don’t allow sleepovers. Or letting their kids stay home alone. Or wait in the car. Or walk to school. We hear the rare tragedies and are implored to consider the parents’ agonized hindsight. As if the media are doing us a favor, framing the issue for us as one of eternal regret.
As if. – L
One tragic story is enough to make this happy photo look sickening. Like so much of childhood!
Omg really? A balloon? Ive heard of adults dying from sucking the helium out of a balloon. But NO, no warning until a KID dies from it. I mean, come on. How stupid is that?
Yes, I saw this article a couple of days ago and was going to send it to Lenore. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if elementary schools now banned balloons at birthday parties held for their students.. Heck, probably even high school kids too considering how our society infantilizes teenagers! Same with Chuck-E-Cheese and other venues that cater to kids. Because of this extremely rare incident, balloons at kids’ birthday parties will probably be a thing of the past.
It just amazing me how our American society over reacts to any and every negative thing that happens to a child.
I’m not even sure I’m following what happened (I guess she put a deflated or semi-deflated balloon over her head?), but I can always excuse a grieving family for talking about how it happened and sharing what they believe is helpful information.
Formal steps beyond that (or fear mongering by the news) is different.
Clicking thru the link (to another link) I found:
“The girl’s death, which has been ruled an accident, won’t be officially investigated. The family thinks she must have tried to open the 3-foot balloon and suck the helium out by putting it over her head, reports CNN. ”
a 3 foot balloon starts to make more sense (I was thinking about a regular sized mylar balloon) as to what could have transpired. Like putting a plastic bag over your head — and presumably the helium didn’t help matters. Of course, that’s pure speculation (and unfair) but I was having trouble even knowing what they’d be warning about.
It’s quite rare to be asphyxiated by a balloon, but it does happen and it’s a good idea to keep them out of beds, IMO.
I recall another case (which I’ve Googled, but can’t find) where a toddler went into a coma after a balloon popped in his face and he inhaled it. His father went to the hospital and commenced an armed standoff so he could remove his son from life support.
Well, the other side of this matter is the formal definition –
law [legislative]: an ordinance prohibiting some activity that has recently killed two young girls in Toronto; a government commitment to enact social change only as the result of child sacrifice.
I can’t help wondering if she thought she could put the balloon on like a costume. A three foot balloon would be almost big enough for some eight year olds to do that.
The idea that balloons should be banned altogether is lazy parenting. Why not teach children NOT to suck air out of them? When my nephew was a toddler, he had a fascination with power outlets. When he tried to touch them we would tap his hand, not hard but enough to get his attention. When he was old enough to understand reason, his parents explained to him what he could and could not do and why. As a result he grew up with common sense. I’m expecting my first child soon and I plan on raising her the same way, instead of buying covers and locks for everything.
Statistically, when one is talking about toy-related versus toy-caused accidents, which are often conflated in the mainstream media, balloons are high on the list. This is nothing new. (So is riding tricycles into swimming pools, but I digress.) Risk of suffocation from balloons is high, but even statistically a relatively low number, because of misuse. Balloons are not intended for children to take to bed.
The fault, dear people, is not in our toys but in ourselves. Common sense would dictate that a child should not be sent to bed with a balloon. While one grieves for the family and the loss of a child, trying to shift the blame and, as Lenore points out, making this instance representative of a widespread risk, makes no sense, as others have pointed out.
I sometimes hearken back to my father’s reaction when at age 10 I singed my hair with the alcohol lamp that came with my chemistry set. (Yes, I’m old.) “You haven’t got the sense God gave a plant. Bet you’ll follow the directions next time.” And, I did.
The point is that even blunt scissors can cut, break away string can still be wound around a finger and so forth. All the safety precautions in the world go out the window in the realm of unintended or unforeseen use, which is why we always stress adult involvement with kids–and teaching them to be responsible users of scissors, or alcohol lamps.
The tragedy is nothing to laugh about, but this danger just seems a little over-inflated!
I’m going with this one…
“If the balloon was innately evil and was attempting to devour the child whole, python like, did the parents not notice something unwholesome about the balloon before its purchase?”
Otherwise this whole thing makes no sense…thank you Stephen King for more evil children’s toys
Such a sad story. My heart goes out the family and I pray they don’t blame themselves. Mylar balloons pose such a low risk.
Empty latex balloons are more dangerous cause they’re fun to chew on, choking and all that. My husband doesn’t even want them in the house but what’s a party without balloons? So we’re careful.
I found this on fisher price’s website:
According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, each year over 100,000 children under age 4 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries, and 17 children die. Approximately one-third of the deaths result from choking; and one-third of the choking deaths result from latex balloons.
(What’s one third of one third of 17?)
I love how they put that huge number (100,000?!) in there for drama, when it’s not pertinent and very vague (what injuries?).
They go on to recommend Mylar as a safe alternative.
[Here’s the link to the article: http://www.fisher-price.com/en_US/parenting-articles/health-and-safety/are-balloons-dangerous
It’s about a lady trying to convince her husband that they shouldn’t have balloons at birthday parties.]
My point is that it’s impossible to cover all bases, no matter how careful.
I, for one, would be thrilled with an all out ban on balloons—I’ve always had an unreasonable aversion to them — you never know when one might pop and scare you. But, seriously, how likely is this to happen?
I’d have to hazard a guess that a balloon popping and scaring you is much more likely to happen than a child dying from putting one over his/her head, but I might have misconstrued your question.
>>I sometimes hearken back to my fatherâ€™s reaction when at age 10 I singed my hair with the alcohol lamp that came with my chemistry set. (Yes, Iâ€™m old.) â€œYou havenâ€™t got the sense God gave a plant. Bet youâ€™ll follow the directions next time.â€ And, I did.<<
@Christopher Bern–I once accidentally caught the sleeve of my sweatshirt on fire when I was ten, while baking Fimo jewellry in the toaster oven. My mom reacted much the same way your dad did.
Someone once told me she kept a helium tank in the basement in the event that life became unbearable. She later told me things were better, so she let the expiration date pass.
I asked if she knew about 211?
I was pleased to hear she connected with a treatment center.
So is helium laughing gas? Or a serious poison?
Do people die laughing?
If so, it’s the gas not the Mylar that’s the issue. And the cause of death would be toxicity rather than suffocation?
“Now her grieving family is warning others about the dangers of suffocation incidents involving balloons.”
Well, maybe they are, but in all likelihood, probably not so much.
There are several factors contributing to what is now a pernicious problem. We live in a culture which is conditioned to expect a lower degree of privacy than ever, coupled with vast numbers of people who could be labeled “attention-seeking”. We have intrusive, overbearing, manipulative “reporters” attempting to feed the maw of a 25-hour “news” cycle. I guess I can understand some people wanting to emotionally purge on a stranger, but I would never think of giving an interview after the loss of a family member.
Assuming that the quote wasn’t completely fabricated, here’s how I think it really went down. A reporter asked a leading question, “Do you think others should be warned about the dangers of these balloons?”
(Who would answer “No.” to a question like that?)
Next thing you know, we have a tasty, “public-servicey” quote for the article, and a satisfied editor. Mission accomplished.
This tragic accident reminds me of a story I read a few years ago now. A child was running around the house with a pencil in his mouth, fell and it penetrated his brain through his soft palate and he died. Of course it’s sensible to ban your children from running around the house with anything in their mouths, but (as here with balloons) this does not mean that kids should stop using pencils.
Sometimes it appears that fear has replaced common sense.
This is a very sad, and I have nothing but sympathy for the family in this story. Strange tragedies can befall any of us, such is the randomness of life. I’m working on being more Zen (or stoic?) about that randomness. I do think about it a lot, which is probably why I’ll never be truly as free range as I wish I could be. However, for some perspective, in 2010, five children died from balloons, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, but in that same year, more than 900 children under 13 died in motor vehicle accidents (either as passengers, pedestrians, or while bicycling), according to the Insurance Institute for Highway safety.
I worry about auto accidents all the time. I live in Los Angeles and drive a lot, and because I homeschool, my son is often in the car with me. In fact, he’s almost tall enough to ride in front with me, but I keep telling him he’s safer in the backseat. If I could afford it, I’d get the safest car on the market, but for now, I have to rely on seat belts, air bags, and hoping that the drivers next to me on the freeway aren’t racing or texting.
Here are the links to the above stats in case anyone is interested;
“A child was running around the house with a pencil in his mouth, fell and it penetrated his brain through his soft palate and he died.”
I was reading a book about scorekeeping in baseball. A trivia item was about a man who was scoring a game when a foul ball struck his hand, driving his pencil into his chest and into his heart, killing him.
@steve..I once caught the front of my sweater on fire when I was pregnant and my enormous belly got too close to the gas range (I guess my arms were shorter than my belly). Certainly pregnant women should be banned from cooking–after all, a child could have been harmed. 🙂 Usually, I am against these knee-jerk reactions but I think I would have gone along with it here. 🙂
Mylar balloons are more dangerous to the planet than to any one particular human.
How long until it’s gone? #ocean #plastic #pollution #toxics #SaveOurSeas @eXXpedition @JambeckResearch
I know that in wartime, helium
filled blimps are used to detect submarines.
-I do not think a toy balloon is filled with helium.
(Where could the
Helium does not trigger a suffocation reaction, as co2 does. So your body has no idea whats happening and you feel like theres no problem at all.
If you breath in lots of helium you can just suddenly drop dead with little warning.
Helium is an inert gas that does not do anything to the body except that when inhaled, it dilutes the inhaled oxygen so much that your body does not get enough oxygen with each breath. (OSHA would call this “creating a low-oxygen environment”.) It is not laughing gas. It is used in balloons because, being lighter than air, it is less dense and can “float” in air, even with the weight of a balloon around it.
Isn’t suggesting that there’s a massive overreaction to this tragedy or speculating that balloons will be banned as a result of it also a bit of overreaction? There’s nothing that indicates that anyone at all is even suggesting such a thing.
A very sad story (and I’m getting the willies reading that article and some of these comments). I consider myself a free-range mom in growing (my oldest isn’t even three) but freaky accidents, well, freak me out.
In my neck of the woods a toddler died after snow fell off a roof onto her and her cousins. Also a tragedy.
Also a freak accident.
I concur with those who say we best teach our kids basic safety instead of just banning stuff.
@Xena_Rulz yes helium is non-toxic and ‘merely’ causes suffocation.
The only problem is that, unlike normal suffocation where the body gets a triggered response via carbon dioxide buildup and you get a chance to react (possibly wake from sleep for example), helium produces no such reaction and you can suffocate without even knowing it.
If you were to walk into a room filled with helium (or nitrogen or many other gasses) you would just fall over dead not having experienced any discomfort.
That makes it a bit more dangerous a source of suffocation than many others!
Oh and in the UK there have been calls to ban helium due to its use in some suicides…
I was listening to some show on NPR and the topic of doctor assisted suicide came up. Apparently the doctor, who took his own life yesterday, helped some people via the use of helium. As Steve said, when inhaled it can be deadly.
In this case, I suspect that the child opened the bottom of the large balloon and stuck her head inside of it. Which unlike doing the voice thing with a latex balloon, will not allow you to drop the balloon away from your mouth if you start to get light headed…as it is over your head.
My condolences to the family. Certainly, teach kids that they should not inhale from the helium balloons. There can be risks, not just the fun and games of a Donald Duck voice. But hopefully…this remains a rare thing and not needing regulation…just education.
I’m not sure this is worthy of note.
Any time there is a death or serious injury that seems easily preventable, this is psychologically disturbing. (In a different sort of way that when a totally UNpreventable injury occurs.)
Now, I happen to be completely safe from this kind of injury, because I don’t buy helium-filled mylar balloons. I’d suggest that my solution is a fully-rational, easily-implemented, and effective method to prevent this exact type of tragedy. If this solution isn’t for you, maybe you can tell your kids “Hey, don’t stick your head (or your little sibling’s head) into the balloon, OK?” But this probably isn’t something you’d think of before-hand (I don’t know your kids, so maybe it is, but if it IS something already know you’d need to tell your kids, maybe deadly-bags-of-death aren’t something you need in the house. Just a suggestion, don’t kill the messenger.)
Since I live near Portland, and I never heard of this, I’m going to say that the media saturation may not have been complete.
Well instead of helium, perhaps all balloons should be filled with water. No, that won’t work either, because then some idiot will drown.
How about paper cutouts of inflated balloons? No, paper cuts.
How about the kids are told: Imagine there is a mylar balloon, filled with helium floating right here, it says Happy Birthday on the side of it. No, can’t have that. Jehovah Witness don’t do birthday, can’t offend them.
I give up. No balloons. They probably are responsible for global warming anyway.
Our local schools already ban regular balloons because of Latex allergy concerns.
When I was in the Navy, we were placed in a chamber for training. I was told to write the numbers 1 through 5 in a vertical column on a notepad. Other people were given other tasks. As we were doing our tasks the amount of Oxygen in the chamber was gradually reduced. None of us noticed any difference and kept doing the task that we were assigned. After a few minutes we were told to stop and the Oxygen level was raised to normal. It was only then we noticed how screwed up our tasks were. I could see my columns of numbers getting progressively worse.
The feeling that you get when you hold your breath is not from the lack of Oxygen, it is from the build up of Carbon Dioxide. Lack of Oxygen is called Hypoxia and its main symptom is a feeling of euphoria.
To me, the idea of “free range” is to be rational about risk, not to be simply dismissive of all risks. Sometimes this means actually looking up the numbers and thinking about it. Just joking “oh gosh I had balloons as a kid what’s wrong with people these days” is stupid: they also made lead ingot casting toys, back in the day, and leaded paint, and lawn darts.
Here is a nice journal publication, from an actual academic journal: “Prevention of Choking Among Children”, Pediatrics 125(3), March 2010, URL http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/125/3/601
> From 1972 to 1992, 449 deaths from aspirated nonfood foreign bodies among children aged 14 years or younger were recorded by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Nearly two thirds (65%) of these fatalities were among children younger than 3 years. Latex balloons were associated with 29% of deaths overall.
Latex balloons are legitimate hazards. Babies and toddlers can inhale a piece of a broken balloon and because of the way it conforms to the airway, it is virtually impossible to get it out before the child suffocates to death. Children who are usually thought to be past the age of choking risk (so preschoolers and young school aged kids) are at risk if they try to blow up latex balloons or suck helium out of inflated ones. Mylar balloons are recommended to parents of younger children as a safer alternative but they still need supervision.
All balloons are pretty crappy for the environment, and they cost a lot at the party store so we usually find other means of decorating for parties.
Here is another lost cause of a story. First I want to share my feelings about this unfortunate incident. My heart goes out to you as well. Here is something that most likely would never happen. Because it did, now so much ado is brought up that balloons should be banned because of the danger. Of course there is danger as a child choking on a deflated balloon. Balloons have been with us probably for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, I don’t know. A mishap such as this is never known to happen. The child might have tried to suck out the air and of course it is helium which possibly result in death due to asphyxiation. It was a large balloon most likely made of a heavier material such as rubber or Mylar. If it popped, it could have smothered her. All these circumstances prevail. I’m sure further investigation will prove this. A balloon to a child is a friend or at least it is supposed to be. The balloon manufacturers are not to blame. It is an instance of a bad thing happening at a bad time. It could happen to anyone. The law of averages say that. Imagine a circus without balloons or even a birthday party. My heart still goes out to the parents of her daughter.