baby who inhaled popcorn
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
February 29, 2024 ·  4 min read

This 3-Year Old Inhaled a Popcorn Kernel – 6 Months Later, Doctors had to Pull Her Life Support

One of the most difficult things a parent can go through is the death of a child. As a parent, your role is to teach that child how to live, and protect them from harm as they grow. Sadly, tragedy can happen to even the most attentive parents, and the grief of losing their baby can be insufferable.

Two Virginia parents now know first-hand what that feels like, when their two-year-old daughter died after choking on a popcorn kernel.

When Time Stops

Patrick Lawson had taken the day off work to celebrate his wife’s birthday at their home on a small farm in Fauquier County, Virginia. They were celebrating as a family, with their four kids, ages 19, 16, 19, and two-year-old Miranda Grace.  Patrick described his little girl as an outgoing, bubbly toddler.

Near the end of the day, Miranda came running into the room, eyes wide. That is when time stopped. The little girl wasn’t breathing. She fell to the ground, and they quickly swept her mouth, searching for whatever was blocking her airway. After finding nothing, Patrick began performing CPR on Mirranda until the ambulance arrived [1,2].

Something in Her Windpipe

When the ambulance got there, Mirranda’s heart had stopped. The paramedics determined that there was something stuck deep within her windpipe. They found out later it was a piece of popcorn.

Emergency medical services managed to get Mirranda’s heart pumping once more. But the family had no way of knowing what kind of damage had been done. She was transferred to the hospital and put on ventilators; her family hoped she would pull through [1].

Life Support

Doctors were keeping the little girl on life support, but they were certain that while her body was living, her brain was dead. To confirm their diagnosis, they asked the family if they could perform the apnea test. This test involves taking the toddler off the ventilator briefly to see if her brain will try to tell the body to breathe on its own.

Despite assurances from hospital staff that the test was safe, the Lawsons were resistant, for fear it would harm their child. They still believed that Mirranda had a chance to survive, and worried that if doctors diagnosed her as “brain dead”, they would not give her more time to heal.

The parents took the hospital to court, where the judge supported testing the child. The court did, however, allow them to pay a thirty thousand dollar bond to bar the hospital from conducting the test while the family appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health System argued that Mirranda was taking up valuable resources, and caring for her cost the hospital ten thousand dollars per day.

“Having one of the PICU beds and all the human resources that entails, occupied by Mirranda, who has likely been dead for weeks, jeopardizes the care of critically ill children that VCU Health System is being forced to turn away,” a health system attorney wrote [1]. 

Read: Kyrstyn Johnson: An Open Letter to Parents About Infant and Pregnancy Loss

Passing Peacefully

Unfortunately, the courts never got to make a decision. Mirranda’s health deteriorated, and she passed away on her own six months after the incident. Following her death, VCU Health released the following statement:

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the Lawson family as they grieve Mirranda Grace’s death. During the several months Mirranda was at our hospital, we saw the Lawson’s enduring love and support of their daughter in dealing with the tragedy. Mirranda’s medical team demonstrated the highest-levels of quality and compassionate care for her and her family. Our thoughts and best hopes remain with the Lawsons.” [3]

Choking Prevention in Children

The Lawson’s story is a tragedy that no parent should have to bear. Choking is a significant concern for young children. They may not always chew their food fully before swallowing it, and they have a tendency to put objects in their mouths frequently.

To prevent your child from choking, offers the following guidance:

Choking Hazard Food

  • Cut food for babies and toddlers into pieces that are no larger than one-half inch.
  • Encourage your children to chew their food well.
  • Always supervise mealtimes.
  • Ensure that children are sitting down while eating. They should never run, walk, play, or lie down with food in their mouths.
  • Beware of what your older children are doing. Many choking instances occur when an older child gives a dangerous toy or food to a younger child.

Keep the following foods away from children under four years old:

  • Hot dogs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Whole grapes
  • Hard or sticky candy
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Chunks of raw vegetables
  • Chewing gum [4]

Choking Hazard Items

Keep the following items away from babies and young children:

  • Coins
  • Buttons
  • Toys with small parts
  • Toys that can fit entirely in a child’s mouth
  • Small balls, marbles
  • Balloons
  • Small hair bows, barrets, rubber bands
  • Pen or marker caps
  • Small button-type batteries
  • Refrigerator magnets
  • Pieces of dog food

Always be alert for small objects that could present a choking hazard to your child. Check under furniture and between cushions to look for items that your child could find and put in their mouth. Pay attention to age guidelines on toys, and don’t give toys meant for older children to younger children [4].

You cannot always prevent tragedy from happening, but staying vigilant can help you to protect your child and prevent a potentially life-threatening emergency.

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