Lollipops are strictly off the menu for Gus Denton after the stick from his last one spent eight months lodged painfully in his gut.
The 5-year-old Hawke's Bay boy had an unusual operation at Wellington Hospital during the weekend, as a doctor delicately extracted the 10cm plastic stick, once part of strawberry-flavoured Chupa Chup, from deep within his intestines.
Yesterday, Gus was back at school and even took the offending item, now thoroughly sterilised, with him to show his friends.
"I might stick to lollies without a stick," he said.
His mother, Jane Denton, said the operation followed about eight months of pain and hospital visits to determine how to remove the stick, and confusion over whether there was a stick at all.
Last November, Gus had been watching cartoons at his grandparents' house, sucking on a lollipop, when he started to choke. At first, the stick appeared lodged in his throat but it quickly disappeared.
"There was a lot of back-slapping and upside-down shaking," Denton said. "We didn't know whether it had gone into the lungs or not. It was pretty scary."
Gus appeared unfazed by swallowing the plastic, but his mother still took him to Hawke's Bay Hospital, where she was advised to keep a watchful eye on the stick coming out the other end.
But after a fortnight of uneventful monitoring, Gus started to complain about stomach pain and had to spend a night in hospital.
"They couldn't work out what the problem was, and said to just keep checking, but after that I knew it was still in there and so did Gus. He had this pain in his side all the time."
In April she was referred to the hospital's surgical team, who initially thought there was no stick. But Denton pushed for a CT scan, which revealed the piece of plastic lodged in his large intestine.
"I felt pretty vindicated but then it was like, ‘what to do now?' It had to come out, he can't turn 50 and end up with a major tumour around this Chupa Chup stick."
Meanwhile, Gus's pain continued to worsen and, last Tuesday, he was transferred to Wellington Hospital where a team of paediatric specialists spent two days trying to flush out the stick using laxative.
Surgery was looking increasingly likely, but the doctors first asked gastroenterologist Neeraj Bhala to take a look. He threaded an endoscope - a tiny camera - up through Gus's large intestines, bumping into the stick, lodged sideways in a bend about two-thirds of the way up. Using a miniature grasping tool, Bhala dislodged it and dragged it back out through about 70cm of intestine.
Bhala said using endoscopy to dislodge "foreign objects" was quite common, but he had never pulled out anything that had been stuck for so long.
"It's the first time I've had a Chupa Chup stick. It was pretty unusual."
Denton is just glad her son is no longer in pain. Lollipops are now banned from the household and Gus's grandfather Ross Denton has written to Chupa Chups, suggesting the company introduce biodegradable lollipop sticks.
"I think we're pretty much turned off lollipops, but they still have their place in the world."
- The Dominion Post
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