Boy who could not swallow to eat again

10-year-old Hrithik Pathre had lost his ability to ingest food after drinking nail polish remover five years ago; surgery on Thursday relieved him of the burnt part of his food pipe

When Hrithik Pathre -- true to the inquisitive nature of all five-year-olds -- gulped down nail polish remover -- his family had no idea that the naive act would prevent their child from swallowing a single morsel of food, for the next five years of his life. It was only on Thursday -- five years after the incident -- that a medical procedure was performed on Hrithik, which will soon allow him to savour every flavour that the world has to offer.

Chew on this: After the burnt food pipe prevented him from swallowing,
doctors started using a syringe to inject liquid or semi-solid food in the
tube at intervals of 30 minutes

On February 1 in 2007, Hrithik's friends had poured nail polish remover solution into a glass. Mistaking it for water, Hrithik gulped down the contents. The child was rushed to a nearby private hospital, where doctors stabilised him and discharged him after five days. However, when Hrithik was given food back home, the child found it impossible to swallow. All efforts and techniques used by his family members failed. "When nothing worked, a local doctor suggested that we take him to KEM hospital," said his mother Seema.

In April 2007, doctors at KEM hospital performed a surgical procedure, in which they inserted a tube inside Hrithik's abdomen, through which he could be fed. "Using a syringe, we would inject liquid or semi-solid food in the tube at intervals of half hours. The food would reach his stomach bag and give him the nutrition required to sustain him. But such food can't replace regular nutrition. Soon he turned pale and weak, and we stopped him from going to school. The tube was always attached to him, and we feared that other kids might hurt him," recalled Seema.

Not having ingested any food for five long years, Hrithik has no memory of the way food tingles the taste buds. "As he was at home all the time, he would even cook meals for us. We could eat what he had rustled up, but he could not. He would say that he could taste the food as we ate it. But we know he secretly craves the taste of solid food. Sometimes he would just chew on the food and then spit it out, as swallowing was painful for him," said Seema.

On Thursday, a team of doctors operated on 10-year-old Hrithik in a 'live operative GI workshop' organised by the paediatric surgery departments of KEM and Wadia hospitals. Paediatric surgeon Dr Edward Kiely from the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London was a part of the workshop and shared his expertise with the participating doctors.

Dr S B Mane, paediatric surgeon who operated on Hrithik, said, "The child had already undergone four episodes of dilation in order to open the burnt oesophagus, but all proved unsuccessful. Because of drinking nail polish remover, almost two-thirds of his food pipe was burnt. Fortunately for the boy, the opening of his pipe hadn't been burnt, and so we decided to perform the surgery."

Explaining the surgery, Dr Mane said, "For five years, the child was fed through a tube inserted in his abdomen, which was only a temporary measure to supply basic nutrition to the child. During the surgery, we removed the burnt portion of the oesophagus, and joined it to the lower undamaged part of the food pipe."

Apart from Hrithik, four other children were operated upon in the workshop. Hrithik is now admitted to Wadia hospital's intensive paediatric care unit (IPCU) and is on the road to recovery. The expensive health care for their son forced the Pathres to exhaust all their savings. "I want him to study now, and become a doctor like those who treated him," said Seema, tears filling her eyes.

Dr Bijal Sanghvi, who was a part of the organising team for the workshop, said, "These accidents lead to lifelong liabilities. Substances like caustic soda, kerosene, batteries used in Chinese toys can lead to a condition called 'corrosive oesophageal stricture' and should be kept away from children's reach. We had seen a case where a child drank kerosene stored in a soft drink bottle, and ended up with a similar complication."

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