Parents watched as their two-year-old choked to death on sugar snap pea

Austin Hardman died when a sugar snap pea became lodged in his vocal cord 

A toddler choked to death on a sugar snap pea in front of his parents during a family movie night at home, an inquest heard today.

Austin Hardman had been enjoying the weekly takeaway and film night with his mother Emma, father Daniel and four-year-old brother Noah at their home in County Durham. 

Little Austin had been going through a ‘fussy phase’ and didn’t want the pizza the family had had delivered, so his father gave him the sugar snap peas to snack on. 

But the two-year-old’s parents watched helplessly when their ‘perfect little boy’ died as the pea became lodged in his vocal cord.  

A coroner ruled Austin died accidentally, having suffered acute asphyxiation, on November 23 last year.

After the hearing Mr Hardman, from Haswell, County Durham, said: ‘If anyone can learn CPR, all I can say is do it, because I never thought in a million years that I would ever be in a position where I would have to do what I did.

‘If people could do something to prepare themselves – God forbid that should ever happen to them – I cannot stress enough that they should take that opportunity.

‘Our Austin was a beautiful boy. He had a huge heart and the biggest smile I have ever seen.

‘I have never known a giggle like it. We watch videos now and hear it and it still makes me smile. He is missed beyond measure.’

He added: ‘Myself and Emma were just blessed to have such a perfect little boy. It is too short, but we were absolutely blessed by a little boy as beautiful as him. I just hope that nobody else ever has to go through this again.’

Coroner James Thompson praised ambulance staff and doctors who had tried to save Austin’s life.  

In a statement read to the hearing, Mr Hardman said the family had planned to have a movie night with pizza and popcorn, as they always did on Fridays.

He said: ‘We had a pizza delivered. Austin was going through a fussy phase and didn’t want to eat any pizza, so I gave him some sugar snap pea pods. He had a really good appetite and he didn’t want to be left out.

‘Austin started coughing I thought he had put too much in his mouth and patted him to see if it would help. I was actually going to tell him off for being greedy.’

The father-of-two said he patted him on the back repeatedly but realising it was having no effect, he called 999.

He took instruction from an operator while he waited for medics to arrive and at one point a neighbour helped with CPR.

On the way to hospital a paramedic noticed something yellow lodged in Austin’s throat and was unable to dislodge it, but cleared the airway to allow oxygen to flow.

When he arrived at hospital doctors found there were no signs of life but continued to attempt to resuscitate him – stopping after 20 minutes.

The inquest was told the ambulance had arrived after 20 minutes, having been delayed by four minutes after missing a turning.

Mr Thompson said: ‘It is always a matter of deepest regret when immediate medical assistant is not at hand when something like this happens.’

But he added a pathologist had given clear evidence that within two to three minutes of the blockage, Austin’s condition would have been deteriorating and that probably began before the call was received by the ambulance service.

Pathologist Doctor Srinivas Annavarapu, who deals exclusively in cases involving children, told the inquest the pea was lodged by the vocal cord and had food around it, blocking the airway.

Dr Annavarapu said that it would not have been possible for someone to remove the food using their fingers and confirmed paramedics would not have been able to carry out the procedure required to dislodge it.

Mr Thompson said: ‘When you consider had the ambulance arrived within the 15 minutes stipulated by national guidelines, Austin would have already seriously unwell.

‘I find therefore that the additional four minutes probably didn’t alter the outcome.’

Mr Thompson said: ‘Austin’s death is indeed a tragedy and hearing the evidence today one cannot fail to be moved.’

Speaking directly to the Hardmans, he said: ‘All I can say is to give you my condolences and sorrow for you loss.

‘This has been a difficult case for both myself and my staff to deal with I cannot even begin to imagine what it’s been like for yourselves. I do hope that in some small way what has happened today at the inquest has given you some understanding what happened to Austin.’