My son, Danny, has suffered from PICA for many years. It’s such a difficult condition, because he often doesn’t have an episode for months, and then it will flare up and occur often. It’s difficult to predict and the flare-ups often last for several weeks.
What Is PICA
PICA is defined as the persistent eating of non-food substances such as dirt, rocks, toys, etc. that have no nutritional value. We first learned Danny had PICA in elementary school. The school called to say they had found steel marbles in the toilet. Our older son had a game with steel marbles. When we checked it, sure enough all of the marbles were missing. Danny was about 10 at this time, so we weren’t keeping all small objects/toys put away like we did when our boys were babies/toddlers. Honestly, I had never heard of PICA at that point, and just thought it was a fluke, one-time incident.
Shortly after that we noticed Danny eating dirt, rocks, mechanical pencil lead, round toys, etc. We had to watch him at all times, and make sure every small object was hidden away in our home. We spoke with Danny’s developmental pediatrician and he diagnosed him with PICA.
PICA is hard to understand, and there are many theories as to why people eat these objects. Some theories suggest it’s due to a nutritional deficiency, a sensory issue, a cognitive disability or even boredom. We did have Danny tested, and no nutritional deficiencies were found. We also tried behavior therapy with a therapist who specialized in working with people with cognitive disabilities. She taught Danny a physical motion “hands down” that he could try whenever he felt like eating non-food items. She also spent a lot of time helping him categorize objects as “food” or “non-food” items. He could easily do hands-down when cued, and identify food/non-food correctly. However, it didn’t translate into real-life and didn’t decrease his PICA incidents.
Danny is especially drawn to eating sand, rocks, dirt, mulch, marbles, buttons, round objects of any kind and mechanical pencil lead. I truly feel like he knows it’s not good, but can’t help himself. As an example, he has gone to our front porch, turned his back to me and then eaten pencil lead. He cognitively believes I can’t see him, if he can’t see me.
PICA And Choking
Danny has had multiple incidents of choking from eating non-food items. I have personally done the Heimlich Maneuver on him 8 times. My husband has also done the Heimlich several times, and he’s had it done three times at school. Every time is traumatizing for me; however, it doesn’t seem to phase Danny. And, that surprises me because Danny is anxious or afraid of SO many things from loud noises to
Recently, Danny had a very scary incident in the cafeteria at school. His friends had left a little early to head to class, and Danny was alone at his table. He found a rubber stopper with a metal pin protruding from it on his chair, and swallowed it. He began choking, but no one was there to notice. He couldn’t make any sound, because his throat was blocked. By the time a student noticed, Danny was blue. This student attempted 4-5 thrusts of the Heimlich, and nothing dislodged. Luckily, a teacher came by and also did a Heimlich thrust and mouth swipe. Danny threw up, and was able to breathe. I did bring him into the clinic to get his throat checked for swelling.
Our school honored these two heroes at a ceremony last week. They were given coins of honor by the police department. Danny and I gave them balloons, cards and candy. I am so grateful these two were present, and were trained in this life-saving skill. Honestly, I feel everyone should take a CPR Safety course, because you never know when you will need it. Our local hospital offers this course for very little cost.
This incident was definitely a God-moment for me. At the ceremony, I learned this student had read on his Chrome Book last spring about a local technical college offering a CPR course that summer, and that the high school would reimburse for the course. He was the only student from Hudson High School to register and take the course. And, he was the young man walking by when Danny needed help. The teacher typically walks outside at lunch, and for some reason walked back to class inside through the cafeteria that day. He also has a special needs child, and is trained and familiar with CPR safety and the Heimlich Maneuver.
I am beyond thankful that Danny is alive, and that God obviously still wants him with his family here on earth. These two men who stepped up to save Danny are definitely heroes, and we are so grateful God allowed them to be there when Danny needed them. I am sad we have regressed back to Danny not being safe in a room alone for any period of time. I caught him eating some plastic last night while I was cooking dinner. We are back to him accompanying me in the laundry room and my leaving the door open when I use the bathroom. However, it’s all more than worth it to have our Danny with us!