'This is the scary thing that happened after my child drank a small slushie drink'. Milton Keynes mum speaks out

She helped prompt the government warnings about the frozen drinks
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A city mum has described her daughter’s scary reaction to a slush drink bought at a local leisure centre.

Malgorzata Abramowska was so concerned that she contacted the government’s Food Standards Agency about the drink – and was instrumental in getting official warnings published about slushies and their commonly-used toxic ingredient of glycerol.

She is speaking out after our story yesterday (Tuesday) about a three-year-old girl who became critically ill and unresponsive for hours after drinking a slushie at Gravity trampoline park in Xscape.

Little Helena's health scare after drinking a slushie in Milton Keynes helped prompt a national warning to be publishedLittle Helena's health scare after drinking a slushie in Milton Keynes helped prompt a national warning to be published
Little Helena's health scare after drinking a slushie in Milton Keynes helped prompt a national warning to be published

Malgorzata’s daughter Helena was also three years old when they bought the drink at Bletchley Leisure Centre in summer last year.

The slightly-built tot had one 330ml cup of Polar Krush, mixing the raspberry and strawberry flavours, said Malgorzata.

"We were watching my older daughter swimming. We sat for 30 or 40 minutes and Helena sipped the drink slowly over that period. She didn’t drink it all at once.

"Before it was finished, she said ‘mummy, I don’t feel well.’ She said her head hurt and she felt dizzy.”

This is the size slushie that Helena drankThis is the size slushie that Helena drank
This is the size slushie that Helena drank

Malgorzata tried to take her to the bathroom but her condition deteriorated rapidly. “She couldn’t walk, she was extremely pale and very weak. Her lips were going purple,” she said.

She swiftly carried the tot out to the car and, as Helena was still breastfed, instinctively began nursing her.

In fact, the breastmilk was probably the best thing she could have done to dilute the effect of glycerol and Malgorzata believes it saved her daughter from becoming critically ill.

"As I was breastfeeding her, she fell asleep. This was unusual as it was only about 11am and not nap time. I tried to wake her up but she was very sleepy and weak.”

She dialled 111 for medical advice and frantically Googled to see if any other children had experienced adverse reactions to slushie drinks. The news came up from just two days earlier that there had been two cases in Scotland of children collapsing.

Luckily Helena recovered quite quickly, though was quiet for the rest of the day. But her mum was determined not to let the matter rest. She contacted Polar Krush bosses, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and even the environmental health department of Milton Keynes City Council.

The response from Polar Krush was as follows: “We have reported this to the FSA who have been investigating this incident. We have never had a previous incident reported to us in which Glycerol was mentioned and we have been using the ingredient for 6 years now and have sold around 80 million drinks, so we are taking this very seriously.

“This is an ingredient used across the industry to reduce the sugar in frozen drinks so we are working with the FSA on what guidance to offer retailers around the selling of this product going forward to try and limit even the very small risk there is currently.”

Just weeks later, the FSA published guidelines warning parents about slushie drinks. They state that glycerol, the ingredient that stops the slush from freezing solid, is toxic and can cause headaches and sickness to a small child in low quantities or shock, hypoglycaemia and loss of consciousness larger amounts are consumed.

The guidelines, classed as voluntary, recommend that no child aged four or under should have the drinks, while children 10 and under should not be be allowed unlimited access at free refill bars such as the one at Gravity MK.

Malgorzata, who is a dance and movement psychotherapist, believes the guidelines should be stricter and based on body weight rather than age because children’s sizes vary so widely. Her daughter, now four, still weighs only 15kg and wears 3-4 year old clothes.

She would also like to see the dangers of slushies more widely publicised, and wonders why MK City Council did not put out an warning locally after she contacted them last year.

"It could have saved the other little girl from becoming so ill after drinking the slushie at Gravity,” she said.

Glycerol (also called glycerin or glycerine) is an alcohol produced by the hydrolysis of triglycerides. It is produced as a byproduct during the manufacture of soap and biodiesel. It absorbs water from the air and it widely used to stop products from freezing and to sweeten and preserve them.

"When you start looking at ingredients, a lot of products contain glycerol,” said Malgorzata. “I’ve seen it in some ice lollies and I won’t allow my children to have them now.”

The substance is also used in antifreeze and some brands of insect killers, dishwasher detergents, cleaning wipes, air fresheners, candles, make-up and hair colours.