Katelyn Cunha Flores, 30, was horrified when she discovered her son Cotter Cunha, now three, had swallowed the contents of a detergent pod while she did washing in July 2017.
The capsule, filled with concentrated detergent, immediately burned Cotter’s esophagus and stomach lining and caused his respiratory system to swell.
Katelyn, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, United States, rushed Cotter, then-1, to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, where his condition began to rapidly deteriorate and he struggled to breathe.
The ailing tot’s airway was so swollen, surgeons were forced to intubate him using a tube designed for a much smaller baby before hooking him up to a life support machine.
Katelyn, a mom of four and a sales representative, feared her young son would die in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit as doctors struggled to stabilize his oxygen levels.
Katelyn said: “We were getting ready to go to New Hampshire for Independence Day weekend and I had sent my older kids ahead of us.
“I was getting ready and tackling some laundry before we hit the road. I had my basket ready and a packet of laundry pods on top.
She further added, “Cotter was just running around and playing with his toys on the floor. He was crawling around.
“I was packing and had my back turned to him when he just started crying.
“I turned around to see what was wrong and I saw his hands were covered in something.
“That’s when I noticed the plastic of the pod hanging out of his mouth.
“I panicked and I picked him up and washed out his mouth in the bathroom. I rushed him straight to the hospital.
“When I got there, they knew how serious it was and they brought him in straight away.
“I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize the severity of it.
“He was beginning to have difficulties breathing and his condition was deteriorating very quickly.”
She further continued, “They brought him into emergency surgery and managed to intubate him, using a very narrow tube normally used for smaller babies.
“In that surgery they also carried out an endoscopy, which showed that parts of his esophagus were burned and the top of his stomach lining.
“After his surgery he was placed in the pediatric ICU and he was hooked up to so many machines, I couldn’t even count them all.
“That night his airway was so compromised, he began turning purple. He coded because he wasn’t able to breathe.
“I didn’t think he would make it through. It was the most awful night of my life.”
Luckily, doctors stabilized Cotter but were unable to determine the long-term impact the injury would have on his respiratory and digestive systems.
After three days on life support, Cotter began to cough, which gave doctors hope that he was strong enough to breathe on his own.
Cotter was extubated and released from the hospital on July 6, 2017, and placed on a strict diet of low-acid, pureed foods for two weeks.
While the injuries to Cotter’s esophagus and stomach have been healed, the toddler continues to have issues with his breathing almost two years after the accident.
Katelyn said: “Luckily he doesn’t have any issues with his stomach now, but he does have trouble breathing when he is sick or has a cough.
“After this happened, they discovered Cotter had a birth defect, meaning that his airway was already a different shape.
“When he gets sick now or coughs, it is a really harsh cough. It sounds like he has croup.
“He has a nebulizer too.”
Data released by the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 12,299 incidents related to laundry pods in 2017. More than 80 percent of those incidents involved children aged 5 or younger biting into pods.
Katelyn urged other parents to avoid the laundry capsules, which she says are not worth the risk when it comes to young children.
The mom also said the appearance of the pods, which resemble candy, should be altered to protect children across the United States.
Katelyn said: “The convenience of laundry pods does not outweigh the damage they can cause.
“They shouldn’t be bright, colorful and fun, they look like something appetizing, especially to kids.
“The pods are so concentrated that they cause terrible damage when ingested.
“The doctors told us that if he had swallowed a sip of normal laundry detergent it wouldn’t have been as bad.
“There is absolutely no need to use them. They compromise safety. We got very lucky.”