It’s happened again. Two weeks ago, Brayden Daher, a 5-year-old boy from Bellevue, Wash., was nearly strangled when he got a Yo-Yo Water Ball wrapped around his neck.
“He was purple, almost blue, and his eyes were bloodshot and watering,” Brayden’s mom, Carolyn Daher, told me. “I could barely get my fingers underneath the cord to pull it. And when you do that, it pulls tighter and tighter, and it was cutting into his neck.”
Somehow she was able to break the cord, which is not easy to do, and remove it. “I think we were very lucky,” Daher says. “He was very close to passing out.”
Parents may not spot the danger
These cheap (less than $5) and colorful fluid-filled balls – made from a stretchy, rubbery material – are imported from China and Taiwan. The ball is attached to a bungee-like cord with a finger loop at the end.
It’s easy to see why they’re such a hit with the kids, who love to swing them around their heads like a lasso. When they do that, the cord stretches. I was able to stretch one about 6 feet. As they lower the ball, the cord can get wrapped around their neck.
“It’s clear that these are inherently dangerous,” says Dr. Brian Johnston, head of the Department of Pediatrics at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. Anything with a cord longer than six inches, he explained, is considered a strangulation hazard.
Dr. Johnston noticed something else: “One of the scary things about this is the cord material is so sticky,” he said. “So once it wraps around on top of itself, it’s going to be hard for someone to unwrap it because the material is adherent to itself.”
At least 410 cases … and counting
This is not a new problem. The first reports of Yo-Yo Ball injuries started in 2003. That’s when Lynn Moran of Lowell, Mass., almost lost her 6-year-old son, Justice.
Justice got the cord of a Yo-Yo Ball wrapped around his neck six times. “His eyes were rolling in the back of his head, and he was foaming at the mouth and his legs were jumping up and down,” she says. Justice spent the night in a hospital getting treatment for “near strangulation.”
Moran and hundreds of other parents who’ve experienced a near miss with a Yo-Yo Ball would like to see it banned. “I just don’t get it. There have been so many kids hurt,” she told me. “Why are they still being sold?”
Something had to be done
After Lisa Lipin’s 5-year-old son, Andrew, was hurt by a Yo-Yo Ball she decided something had to be done. For three years now, this mother from Skokie, Ill., has been trying to get the toy off the market.
She convinced the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate. In September of 2003, the CPSC concluded there was a “low, but potential risk of strangulation.” But the safety agency said the risk was not great enough to issue a recall. So it advised parents “concerned about this risk,” to cut the cord or throw the toy away.
Lipin calls that advisory “a bunch of hooey.” She wants the commission to reconsider its decision and ban the toy.
“I think they’re waiting for a child to die,” Lipin says.
Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, denies that allegation. “It is absolutely not the case that we are waiting for a death to act,” he says.
Consumer Reports says this toy has “morphed into different shapes that hold even more hazards.” The fluid has been replaced by a battery and electrical components that make the toy blink.
The magazine’s editors say that in lab tests and real life tests with kids, “the parts fell out of the squishy material or tore through it in four of the six toys we tried.” Consumer Reports warns that kids could choke on these parts, including the battery “which could eat away at the esophagus or stomach lining.”
Should Congress act?
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., wants Congress to ban the Yo-Yo ball. “I think a serious injury or death is quite possible if we don’t act on this.” She points out that when “used properly” this toy is “a real danger.”
Last year, Schakowsky, who thinks there are significantly more than 410 children who have been injured by Yo-Yo Balls, introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of this toy. She is critical of the way the Consumer Product Safety Commission has acted. “We treat our children like crash dummies,” she told me. “When something happens, then we might do something. In this case, we still haven’t done anything.”
Yo-Yo Balls are banned in Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Brazil. As of Jan. 1, 2006, they are also banned in Illinois. Lipin convinced lawmakers in her state to take action. She has also managed to get some big retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, and Walgreen’s to stop selling them. Ebay will no longer allow them to be listed for sale.
But Yo-Yo balls are still available at party stores and from various on-line retailers. That’s why Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America, Underwriters Laboratories and other consumer groups want a federal ban on sales.
Don Mays, director of product safety at Consumer Reports, says the time to act is now. “Let’s not wait for a death to occur before we deal with a product with a known hazard,” he says.