The boy who could drown in his own saliva

At the supermarket, Freya Crosbie looks like any other over protective mum.

She checks the contents of every purchase for her two-year-old son, to make sure it's suitable for him.

The 26-year-old isn't looking for E numbers or soaring sugar levels though - she is trying to find food that won't result in young Christopher needing to be rushed to hospital if he eats it.

The Gracemount toddler was born with a rare condition which means his food pipe was split in two, and has endured numerous operations and hospital visits as a result.

Even the smallest piece of food can get lodged in his throat, and after he was born there were even fears he could drown in his own saliva.

His parents now fight for greater awareness of the tracheo-esophageal fistula condition, a problem which affects one in around 5000 births.

Christopher's condition keeps Ms Crosbie and her partner Bruce on permanent red alert, and means he'll be at risk of choking every time he eats for the rest of his life.

"People who see me in the shop would think I am really protective, but it has to be that way," said Ms Crosbie, a repayments officer for the council.

"His oesophagus is basically shaped like an upside down wine bottle, which means if he eats too quickly it clogs up and he chokes.

"Sometimes this can be cleared with time, sometimes we have to rush him to hospital - about once a month."

Although the condition should improve as Christopher's body - and oesophagus - grows, and as his understanding of his medical condition improves, there are still significant challenges ahead.

He has been through more in his short life than most will experience in a lifetime.

Ms Crosbie said: "We noticed something was wrong when I was trying to breastfeed him and he was choking on the milk.

"Luckily the operation to join the two parts of his pipe worked, but then they found he had a hole in his heart.

"Children with the condition can have all kinds of other problems too, with their kidneys and spine, but thankfully Christopher's was restricted to his heart."

Christopher's most recent hospital visit last week came days before he turned two.

"I suppose he's too young to really notice that and it's more Bruce and I who are affected by that side of it," Ms Crosbie said. "It gets us down that he's had his second birthday but still isn't able to have birthday cake.

"All we can do is keep telling him to chew his food as much as he can to limit the number of times he chokes."

Such is the couple's familiarity with complex medical issues, traditional childhood scares like chickenpox come as "water off a duck's back".

"He's such a great child, you would never know he had this condition," Ms Crosbie added. "He keeps bouncing back. His progress amazes us."

A spokeswoman for TOFS, the charity which supports parents of children with the condition, said: "Learning that a child has TOF can be an extremely difficult time for parents. From that first moment to sharing the everyday challenges of bringing up a child with TOF, TOFS offers friendship, support and information."

RAISING VITAL FUNDS

TRACHEO oesophageal fistula (TOF) is a little-known disease which can cause misery for families.

Registered charity TOFS is working to raise awareness of the condition and generate cash to help affected families.

Among the fundraising activities is a sponsored walk around York, which Christopher and his family are joining on October 11.

The organisation also wants to create a parent contact at every children's hospital in the UK to provide support beyond the medical input of doctors. Ms Crosbie said: "It really helps to talk to other parents about it, there's only so much doctors can tell you, whereas parents can help exchange tips like ways to puree a banana and so on. It's invaluable and helps to know you're not the only people going through it."

You can donate to the family's fundraising effort at www.justgiving.com/christophersTOFwalk. For more information on the charity visit www.tofs.org.uk.

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