Fohlicia Mitchell updates PEOPLE on daughter Kennedy, who faced complications after swallowing a single water bead at 9 months old
Mitchell, mom to now 20-month-old daughter Kennedy, is opening up about what it was like to learn that the product that resulted in an infant Kennedy needing several surgeries to correct and heal an intestine obstruction was officially recalled.
"It's a very liberating feeling. It's been a long time coming," Mitchell tells PEOPLE.
The mom has worked alongside Ashley Haugen — whose daughter Kipley experienced a similar incident to Kennedy and was later diagnosed with Toxic Brain Encephalopathy, a brain injury resulting in exposure to solvents and heavy metals — on advocating to get not just the Chuckle & Roar product off store shelves, but water beads altogether.
"It's definitely been an uphill battle. It feels like it really shouldn't be this hard to keep children safe and to get some accountability. So it feels good in that respect," she tells PEOPLE.
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On Thursday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that Buffalo Games issued a recall of the Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity Kits, sold exclusively at Target.
Mitchell found out from Google that morning. "Ashley and I have been recently talking a lot. We just had some beads sent off for independent testing by the non-profit That Water Bead Lady, so, I am always online, looking at the news. I saw it maybe 23 minutes after CPSC posted it and sent it to Ashley," she shares. "Then I started getting a lot of tags on TikTok from the news articles about it around the country."
Mitchell first spoke with PEOPLE earlier this year, sharing Kennedy's story of how a single water bead ingested resulted in serious intestinal damage and a month-long hospitalization for the little one.
"I think this recall is the right thing to do, the ethical thing to do, but they're a day late and a dollar short," the mom shares. "I'm happy about it but I'm also not going to praise the company when they were first notified in 2022 of an issue."
"I feel like it has been pulling teeth [to get here], so I'm happy about it. It's a step toward something bigger, but I don't think that I've reached the point where justice has been served."
Mitchell notes that she's never received an apology or "any kind of recognition" from Chuckle & Roar. What she has gotten, however, is an outpouring of support and guidance from other families impacted.
"Ashley's gotten together this group of parents, it is all moms right now, of children that have been injured by water beads. We talk regularly throughout the week and coordinate with each other when we have meetings with SPSC or organization fundraisers."
The group holds special space in their hearts for Taylor Bethard, a Wisconsin mom whose 10-month-old daughter died after ingesting a water bead in July.
"It's really sad and it definitely triggers a lot for me," Mitchell says. "I find myself reflecting on her and her situation and know how close I could have been to being in that position, and it's really scary."
Thankfully, Kennedy is doing great today, continuing to work with her medical team on digestion and recently getting comfortable with walking.
"We're really proud of her. She's happy to be running around with her brothers and I'm happy to see the state that she's in now," Mitchell says. "The worry and concern for side effects or issues down the line is unfortunately going to be there forever."
Mitchell is staying busy, recently entering a pre-nursing program and enjoying time with her family outside of her advocacy work.
"Her first December, her first birthday, were all permanently altered by the experience. My oldest son's birthday is in November and I missed that, and he sometimes brings it up. We are him that home's home and this year's different. Kennedy's not going to be hurt and life is different now," she notes. "And the anniversary of when Kennedy was hurt is coming up, which I struggle with."
The determined mom does plan on continuing her advocacy work, next as a board member of That Water Bead Lady. "This isn't going to stop because the brand that injured Kennedy was recalled," she says. "This is a much bigger issue. I really care about keeping children sad and I think I have a role that I can play and something to offer in making that happen."
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