"I thought he was dead when I picked him up," says Karen Whatley. She's talking about her youngest son, 9-year-old Parker. They were at a party Saturday when Parker was introduced to sucking helium out of a balloon. "I sounded like Donald Duck," says Parker. But when he tried it again, something went seriously wrong. "I remember sucking the helium and I just passed out on the floor," recalls Parker. "I ran in there and that's when he was out cold on the floor unconscious. He was purple at that time and was having a seizure," says Karen. Dr. Daniel Baber with ETMC says what happened to Parker is rare. He believes other unknown elements inside the balloon could have triggered such a severe reaction. "What is dangerous is when someone gives you something and says here take this, inhale this, and you don't know exactly all of what's in there," says Dr. Baber. "This happens all the time. I wanted parents to be aware so they wouldn't allow their children to inhale the helium like that thinking it's going to always be safe," warns Karen. Ask Parker if he'll be inhaling helium again and he'll tell you no. It's a lesson learned, considering the situation could have been much worse. "The possibility of losing a child over that is more than a person could be able to withstand," says Karen.
The ER where Parker was treated told them Parker inhaled enough helium to displace the oxygen in his lungs, making it similar to being asphyxiated. He was treated and released the same day and has been doing fine since.