Boy's Cause Of Death Revealed To Be Linked To Viral Spicy Chip Challenge

A Massachusetts teen's cause of death revealed to be linked to a TikTok challenge, that previously put an Oklahoma student in an ambulance.

Thursday, May 16th 2024, 3:17 pm

By: News 9, CBS News


A Massachusetts teen's cause of death was revealed to be linked to a TikTok challenge, that previously put an Oklahoma student in an ambulance.

The teen who participated in the "One Chip Challenge" died from cardiac arrest hours after eating the spicy tortilla chip, an autopsy concluded. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Harris Wolobah of Worcester had ingested a high amount of a chili pepper extract.

The 14-year-old died on Sept. 1, 2023. Chip maker Paqui pulled the product from store shelves days after his death.

Back in September 2023 paramedics arrived at Newcastle Middle School, to assist a student who had taken part in the “One Chip Challenge”.

Related Coverage: You're Eating Pepper Spray:' Viral Spicy Chip Challenge Makes Its Way To Oklahoma

The TikTok challenge circulating among middle school students, is based around a single chip sold by a company called Paqui.

The chip is sold in a coffin-shaped box with a warning on the back for customers.

The Poison Control Center says it contains Capsaicin, a chili pepper extract, and two other types of peppers that cause mouth and throat pain.

This mixture of spices can also result in more serious health problems including heart attack or even death. "There's dangers involved here. It can cause life long effects for your digestive system. For this chip challenge there are measurements of heat for peppers & jalapenos up in the millions the same level as pepper spray. You're eating pepper spray,” said Major Richard Rex, Oklahoma City Police Department Firefighter & Paramedic.

Parents of students confirmed the Newcastle middle schooler ate the chip in the bathroom and passed out. 

Moments later a 911 call was made to help the child. 

While the incident took place, Newcastle students were placed on lockdown inside their classrooms while paramedics worked on the child.

The Middle School issued a statement urging parents to talk to their kids about not participating in social media challenges and students who bring items and or entice others into accepting various challenges will face consequences.

Harris Wolobah's cause of death

Wolobah's cause of death was listed as cardiopulmonary arrest "in the setting of recent ingestion of food substance with high capsaicin concentration." 

Wolobah also had an enlarged heart and a congenital heart defect, the medical examiner found. 

The teen's mother, Lois Wolobah, told WBZ-TV last year that she got a call from the school nurse at Doherty High School, saying Harris fainted after eating the chip a friend gave him. He later passed out again at home and was taken to an emergency room where he died.

The family at the time said Wolobah was a healthy basketball player with no known allergies.

"I hope, I pray to God that no parents will go through what I'm going through. I don't want to see anybody hurting the way I'm hurting." Lois Wolobah said. "I miss my son so much. I miss him so much." 

What is the "One Chip Challenge"?

The "One Chip Challenge," which gained popularity on social media, contains a single chip inside a box labeled "Carolina Reaper" and "Naga Viper Pepper." On the back of the package a warning label says "Keep out of reach of children." WBZ-TV found the chips in a store about 10 minutes from Wolobah's school last fall.

"While the Paqui One Chip Challenge is intended for adults only, we have seen an increase in teen usage of the product," a Paqui spokesperson told WBZ-TV after Wolobah's death. "The product's label clearly states it is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions."  

The One Chip Challenge was also blamed for "poisoning" a sixth-grade student in San Francisco last year. 

Is capsaicin dangerous?

Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers spicy and the level of capsaicin in a given product is measured in Scoville heat units. 

The tortilla chips in the "One Chip Challenge" are made with two of the hottest, with the Scoville heat unit ranging between 1.4 million and 2.2 million. Jalapeno peppers, by comparison, are only 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville. 

Capsaicin can obviously irritate the mouth and throat but can also cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. But in very large doses, it can cause more serious problems such as allergic reactions, damage to the esophagus, rapid heart rate, chest pain, trouble breathing, and even heart attacks, the National Capital Poison Center says.

WBZ-TV's Dr. Mallika Marshall says that while the product is no longer in stores, parents should warn their kids to stay away from similar social media challenges and resist peer pressure to eat dangerously spicy foods. If you or your child develop trouble breathing or chest pain after eating capsaicin, call 911. 

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