A mother has saved her three-year-old son’s life 500 times after he was born with half a food pipe – which could cause him to choke to death every time he eats.
Laurie Shepherd had to undergo life-saving surgery aged two days old because of a rare condition which left a 4cm gap in his food pipe.
However, the procedure left him with a lump of scar tissue in his oesophagus which causes food to stick in his throat and press on his windpipe.
The brave toddler must thoroughly chew each bite before he swallows as even soft foods like bananas and grapes can cause a potentially-fatal blockage.
Laurie’s choking episodes – or ”stickies” – began at five months and occur up to three times every day – with some choking fits lasting up to four hours.
His dedicated mum Rachel Hayes, 41, from Elsworth, Cambridge, has intervened around 500 times by patting him on the back or inducing vomiting during meals.
She said: ”The first time he had a sticky it was a small piece of parsnip that had escaped the blender.
”I remember seeing the panic in his eyes and knowing something was wrong so I grabbed him from the chair and started patting him on the back.
”After 30 seconds the parsnip came out into my hand and I thought ‘Oh my God, I could have killed him’.
”I was alone with him and I just held him and cried. It was the first of many times that I sat with him and sobbed because we were both so exhausted.
”At first I was terrified every time I fed him but after hundreds of stickies I’ve learned to stay calm because he can read the panic in my face.
”It’s traumatic to see him struggling and there have been so many times he has almost passed out – but thankfully it has never come to that.”
Rachel noticed Laurie was constantly coughing up mucus after he was born by Caesarean section in January 2007.
Doctors were called when he was unable to swallow a cup of formula and when they inserted a tube into his food pipe it hit a dead-end.
He was diagnosed with Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula and Oesophageal Atresia (TOF/OA), a rare condition affecting 1 in every 3,500 babies born in the UK.
TOF is where a patient’s food pipe is not attached to their stomach while OA is where the windpipe joins the top of the food pipe diverting fluid into the lungs.
Doctors stretched the bottom of Laurie’s food pipe to bridge the 4cm gap between it and his stomach in a gruelling six-hour operation.
Surgeons then wrapped a section of muscle from his shoulder around the joint to increase its strength.
Laurie was then chemically paralysed for five days to ensure that the delicately repaired oesophagus would remain intact.
But a lump of scar tissue left by the operation means food can become trapped in his food pipe – pressing on the walls of his windpipe and stopping him from breathing.
Rachel, who works at the University and College Union at Cambridge University, took Laurie home at 24-days-old.
She and Laurie’s dad, Mark Shepherd, 41, a Grants Officer at Cambridge City Council, now supervise him whenever he is eating.
Rachel, who gave birth to her second son Callum eight weeks ago, hopes her son’s story will raise awareness of the TOF/OA condition.