A mother in Wisconsin is speaking out and calling for change after the sudden death of her 10-month-old child after the little girl accidentally ingested a water bead.
Esther Jo Bethard, just 10 months, was a mischievous child, with bright blue eyes and curly red hair, her mother Taylor Bethard told News Digital in an interview.
The youngest of Tyler and Taylor Bethard’s five children, little Esther Jo spent her young life in southeast Wisconsin. She enjoyed playing in her backyard, going to the zoo and dancing with her siblings.
When Esther Jo got sick on July 6, her family had no idea that her time on Earth would be drawing to a sudden end.
She died the following day, July 7 — just seven weeks before her first birthday.
She had swallowed a water bead, unbeknownst to her family.
“She was absolutely adored by every single one of her big siblings,” Taylor Bethard told Fox News Digital in an interview.
“She had a big smile that brightened up the whole room, beautiful blue eyes and curly red hair,” she said.
‘She was adored and fiercely loved’
The baby was “quick to crawl and pull herself up to standing” — and even, to her parents’ displeasure, teaching herself how to climb up on the couch and up on the stairs, “much earlier than her siblings.”
The child’s parents are pushing for change when it comes to the sale of water beads.
Said mom Taylor Bethard, “She knew she wasn’t supposed to climb the stairs. So she would start to climb them, stop to look at you, smile and scurry away as fast as she could when you went to get her.”
Little Esther Jo’s favorite foods were ice cream and watermelon. She really loved to dance.
“When I say she was adored, I truly mean she was adored and fiercely loved by everyone,” added the mom.
With Esther Jo’s sudden and tragic death, her parents are pushing for change when it comes to the sale of water beads.
“Water beads should be banned/recalled and no longer allowed to be marketed as a children’s toy,” said Taylor Bethard.
Initially, water beads were used as “agricultural products intended to maintain soil moisture,” according to Poison.org, a website that tracks hazardous products.
The small beads swell to many times their size once they are in contact with a liquid.
Dehydrated water beads are about the size of a pinhead.
Florists also use them to keep floral arrangement hydrated.
Plus, the beads are used as fluid absorbers in products like diapers.
Water beads are also “marketed as children’s toys or therapies for children with sensory processing or autism spectrum disorders,” the website notes.
Had Taylor Bethard, a teacher, known the risks associated with the popular toy, she “never would’ve allowed my older kids to play with them,” she told Fox News Digital. “They would’ve never been in my house.”
She added, “At the minimum, water beads need to have the appropriate warnings about the life-threatening dangers, which is not limited to choking.”
A representative from the Consumer Public Safety Commission, which is based outside of Washington, D.C., told Fox News Digital that the agency was “aware of this tragic death” and is “looking into this incident.”
It also said, “We have been working with industry to improve the relevant standards for these products and are considering additional rulemaking options should they not do so in a timely manner. We strongly encourage parents and caregivers to report any incidents with this product to us at SaferProducts.gov.”
The symptoms of intestinal blockage caused by water bead ingestion “are the same as having a stomach bug,” said Taylor Bethard.
The signs of water bead ingestion include a refusal to eat, vomiting, abdominal pain and constipation, among other things, said the American Academy of Pediatrics.
When a water bead is swallowed, the liquid inside the digestive system can cause the bead to swell, which in turn can block an intestine.
“Urge them to immediately stop the use of water beads.”
In the wake of their daughter’s death, the Bethard family has set up a GoFundMe to pay for her funeral expenses, and mom Taylor Bethard is hoping more people will learn about the hidden dangers posed by water beads.
“I want to encourage sending emails/letters to your school boards, superintendents, day care and preschool directors, and teachers,” she said.
“Urge them to immediately stop the use of water beads.”
This awareness effort has already seen results: Water beads are now banned from schools in the Bethard family’s own school district.
“After hearing about Esther, many of our local teachers, principals and therapists got rid of them,” said mom Bethard.
“I then chose to reach out to the superintendent because I wanted them to be gone in all of our schools. I wanted it to be a rule that they weren’t allowed.” She added, “Thankfully our school district has decided that water beads will not be allowed.”
She also said, “We are blessed by wonderful friends, family and support from our church. Suddenly losing your child is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
“We have four other kids. Without support from people around us, there’s no way my husband and I could support our four other kids through this loss,” she said.
Taylor Bethard’s advice to other families and caregivers regarding water beads is simple: Do not bring them into your house.
“They bounce, they roll, they get lost in carpets and corners of the house,” she said. “The risk is not worth it. If you want your kids to enjoy the sensory aspect — there are alternatives.”
Advisory regarding water beads
Fox News Digital earlier spoke with Ashley Haugen, a San Antonio, Texas-based mother of two and owner of That Water Bead Lady website. Her own daughter was seriously injured after accidentally ingesting a water bead in 2017; the trajectory of the child’s life has been permanently changed, the mom has shared.
Said Haugen, “Water beads should not be marketed to children,” Fox News Digital previously reported. “The risks they pose to children of all ages, pets and the environment at large outweigh any perceived benefit they provide as a ‘sensory toy.’”
Haugen has tips and advisories for other parents regarding water beads, including these pointers:
- The best way to prevent water bead injuries is to refrain from purchasing the product, although about a third of all incidents occur at school.
- Call a doctor or pediatrician immediately if water bead ingestion, aspiration or insertion is suspected.
- Symptoms of water bead ingestion could mimic that of an ordinary flu or cold — and water beads do not always appear on X-ray or CT scans. Some may even look like cysts.
- If a child is suspected of swallowing, aspirating or inserting a water bead, early diagnosis and detection is key to a better health outcome.
- Water beads can be toxic — and a single water bead could be deadly.