Breath-Holding Tots Terrify Parents, Hold Them Hostage

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Toddlers and Temper Tantrums

"My mother used to tell me she babysat for a girl 5 or 6 who was a little monster and held her breath," said Jessica. "Her parents gave her everything to keep her from doing it.

"She thinks it's terrible and tells me never to give in to him," she said. "So we treat him like he is having a normal temper tantrum, but we stop and listen to see if he is going to stop breathing."

Elizabeth Smith, who works for the federal government in Tennessee, said that her 2-year-old, Hazel, has no control over her breath-holding spells, which are triggered by hitting her head.

The first time, she fell from a work trailer that was sitting in their driveway. In the second incident, Hazel had fallen off the toilet.

"Her eyes rolled back, she stopped breathing and got really red, then really white and her mouth dropped open," Smith said. "I was so terrified, when she fell limp in my arms, I ran out in the street screaming my child was dead."

At first, doctors suspected a seizure, but a CT scan revealed that Hazel was normal, just a clumsy child.

"We should really put a helmet on her," said Smith.

In subsequent episodes, her parents blew in her mouth and Hazel began breathing again.

"We weren't as scared," said her mother. "We knew she would come to and be OK, but it was terrifying nonetheless."

As for Rozalynn Cevetto, she got a clean bill of health and her parents are convinced she is not breath-holding on purpose.

"Usually, it is more like she is tired and stubs her toe and will do it," she said. "Honestly, I worry more that she won't breathe again."

By the time she was 18 months old, Rozalynn had a seizure while the family was eating out at a restaurant.

"Rozalynn didn't want to sit in the high chair and was tired and hungry," said her mother. "I noticed the signs of an impending pass out, except this time, she started convulsing. Her arms were out straight, stiff and wouldn't go down."

The restaurant staff called 911 and by the time paramedics arrived, the toddler was convulsing. She underwent blood work and other basic tests, as well as a CT scan and stayed the night.

"She was very active and happy once we were admitted to the pediatrics floor," said Cevetto.

A neurologist concluded that, sometimes, children "seize to reset" something in their brains, but never do it again.

That was the case with Rozalynn.

"It's been two years now and, so far, that's been true," said Cevetto.

"Basically, I had everything checked out," she said. "I know I used to have it [breath-holding] and didn't have it again since I was about 4," said Cevetto. "I figure I'm OK, she's OK."

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