Boy, 4, dies after eating hot dog Choking or allergy may have been cause

August 08, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Davon Harris was remembered yesterday as a playful 4-year-old who adored the little girl who lived across the street and "wanted everything" for his birthday, which was just a week away.

The talkative child born with asthma died Thursday night after eating a hot dog smothered in hot sauce at his West Baltimore home. His father, Troy Harris, 28, tried to resuscitate him, but the boy died about 20 minutes after arriving at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Authorities said they are awaiting autopsy results -- not expected until next week -- to determine whether Davon choked or suffered an allergic reaction to the sauce.

A doctor said yesterday that hot dogs are more likely than any other food to cause a child to choke.

"A bite-sized piece of hot dog is the perfect plug for a child's airway," said Dr. Susan Baker, a professor of injury prevention at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

Davon's 48-year-old grandmother, Claudia Harris, echoed that sentiment yesterday in a warning to parents. "Watch what you feed your children," she sobbed as she sat outside her rowhouse in the 1300 block of Argyle Ave.

Within three days in March, Harris said, she lost her son, Sean Harris, 19, to a heart attack, and her sister, Gloria Noakes, 54, to lung cancer.

Yesterday, a neighbor offered comfort: "Be strong."

Harris buried her head in her hands. "I'm tired of being strong," she answered.

Police said the elder Harris had been play-wrestling with his son. When they stopped, Davon asked for a hot dog, which his father gave him. A few minutes later, as both sat on a living room couch, police said Davon stopped breathing.

The father called 911 about 7: 30 p.m. Police said that when they and paramedics arrived, he was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Davon was taken by ambulance to Hopkins, where he was pronounced dead at 8: 06 p.m.

Police said the boy apparently choked. His grandmother said emergency room doctors told her the child may have suffered an allergic reaction to the sauce. Harris said she knew her grandson had asthma but wasn't aware of any allergy.

She described Davon as a playful, rambunctious child who hours before his death had been reciting passages from his favorite story, "The Three Little Pigs."

"He would talk you to death," Harris said, adding that her grandson would have turned 5 next Friday. "He wanted everything," she said. "He loved every toy."

Harris said her son apparently did not cut up the hot dog before giving it to Davon. But Baker, the Hopkins professor, said even small pieces can be deadly.

Baker conducted a study in 1984 of children who choked, and found 17 of 103 victims had eaten hot dogs. The next highest food groups were candy, with 10 deaths, and peanuts, which accounted for nine deaths.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, recommended changes in either the shape of hot dogs or their consistency, so the meat breaks apart when TC chewed. But she said her advice has gone unheeded.

Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, said hot dogs should be sliced down the middle for anyone under 3. "Hot dogs are a safe food when they are cut up properly," she said.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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