Girl, 3, who takes four minutes to eat a strawberry – because gobbling her food could kill her
Milly had 13 operations to disconnect her trachea and oesophagusShe can't eat carrots, mango, melon or rice as they can get stuck



16:18 GMT, 9 May 2012

Milly with mother Kaylee: The youngster had 13 operations on her oesophagus to widen it

Milly with mother Kaylee: The youngster had 13 operations on her oesophagus to widen it

A three-year-old girl suffers from a rare digestive condition which means she can't gobble down her food – because it could kill her.

Milly Williams must carefully chew every mouthful because she is unable to swallow properly and is liable to choke. The condition means it takes her four minutes to eat a single strawberry.

Her mother Kaylee, 26, first noticed something was wrong when she was breast feeding Milly and realised her daughter had turned purple and lifeless.

Doctors found a small pouch at the top of the youngster’s oesophagus and which meant her baby milk was spilling into her trachea and lungs – causing pneumonia.

Then when she started eating solids it was impossible for Milly to have a mouthful without choking.

Now, after 13 life-changing operations to disconnect her trachea and oesophagus from each other, Milly is learning how to eat normally for the first time.

Medics have warned the youngster she must chew her food at least four times longer than a normal child or she would have to be rushed to hospital to have any blockages surgically removed.

The rare condition, a combination of Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula (TOF) and Oesophageal Atresia (OA), means it takes Milly four minutes to eat just one strawberry.

While most youngsters are warned against drinking coke, Milly often relies on the fizzy drink to help her force the food down.

She is also encouraged to eat chocolate and soft crisps, like Wotsits and Quavers, because they are less likely to cause choking.

Meal times regularly take longer than an hour with Milly taking longer to finish each mouthful than her little brother Olly, one.

The condition also means when Milly starts primary school in September she is likely to have no time left during her lunch hour to play outside with pals once she had finished eating.

Her family are already trying to arrange an extra dinner lady for the local primary school – just to watch over Milly while she eats.

Kaylee held Milly for the first time when she was eight days old

Kaylee held Milly for the first time when she was eight days old

Doctors have already told the family the condition will never disappear, which means – even as an adult – Milly will be forced to take toddler sized bites of her food.

Full-time mother Kaylee said: 'Now Milly does enjoy eating, but sometimes it is difficult to keep
her going as she has to chew for so long.'

Kaylee added: 'When I first fed Milly I was shocked to see her go purple and lifeless. I didn’t know what was wrong with her.

Milly cannot eat carrots, mango, melon and rice in case they get stuck

Milly cannot eat carrots, mango, melon and rice in case they get stuck

'We feel that we have come a long way and Milly is stable. We worry less now as she is old enough to tell us if she has got something stuck.

'Chewing for Milly is a matter of life or death. If she gets something stuck she will cough and panic. It is very scary to watch.

'We try to make it fun for Milly – we tell her ‘Chew, chew, chew’ so she remembers. She knows that she was ill as a baby – I think the more she knows the better.'

Milly, who lives with her mother Kaylee, father Gareth, 26, a personal trainer and little brother Olly in Wickhambrook, Suffolk, was born by caesarean after a two-day labour.

Doctors diagnosed her with TOF and OA when Milly was one day old and aged just two days old she underwent an eight-hour-long operation.

Surgeons at Addenbrooke’s Hospital carried out an oesophageal atresia to divide the tracheo-oesophageal fistula and performed a primary anastomosis to join the two ends of the oesophagus.

Milly was allowed to go home from hospital 14 days after the operation, but she kept bringing milk up when Kaylee fed her.

Still concerned Kaylee took Milly to Addenbrooke’s Hospital where doctors discovered her oesophagus had in fact closed over and they had to gradually widen it over a number of weeks.


TOF is a condition where the bottom end of a baby’s oesophagus is joined to its trachea.

Without surgical intervention, this causes air to pass from the windpipe to the food-pipe and stomach and can also allow stomach acid to pass into the lungs.

Some babies like Milly also have OA a condition where a baby is born with a pouch at the top of its oesophagus which prevents food from reaching the stomach.

This pouch can fill up with food and saliva and eventually overflow into the baby’s trachea and enter the lungs and cause choking.

Milly also developed pneumonia and other complications and had to be fed by a tube into her stomach for the first year of her life.

So far she has had 13 operations on her oesophagus, which is smaller than an average child’s – and will require further surgery throughout her life.

Her oesophagus is smaller in diameter where the two parts were surgically joined together so she has to chew her food carefully so it fits through the gap.

Milly cannot eat carrots, mango, melon, rice or slippery foods as they are difficult to pull out of her throat if they get stuck.

When she was one-year-old Milly would choke more than 12 times every day, but now she had learnt to chew her food for longer and manage her condition.

Now on a bad week Milly will choke 20 times, but on a good week she may only choke once. When she chokes her mother Kaylee has to try and pull the food out of her throat.

If the mouthful can’t be reached surgeons have warned her airways can only be unblocked by surgery to cut the blockage from her throat.

Kaylee said: 'Milly’s favourite food is lasagne. The best crisps for her to eat are Wotsits or Quavers as they melt in her mouth – chocolate is good for that too.

'The other day my mother drank some tea and it went down the wrong way and Milly told her ‘you must chew’

'Birthday parties are quite scary for us as parents as you never know what is going be in the party bags.

'I am nervous about her going to school and I hope she will be able to eat her lunch.'

Milly’s family are raising money for the Sick Children’s Trust Home who run Acorn House at Addenbrooke’s Hospital where they stayed for four months during her treatment