A two-year-old from Regina is learning how to swallow again following throat surgery.
Hailey Wudwud gets nutrients and medication from a feeding tube, but is is now able to eat solid food for the first time in months.
Wudwud had her throat reconstructed on Sept. 10 at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital.
She was in the operating room for more than 10 hours and needed a blood transfusion.
"It is so nerve wracking and really humbling," said Wudwud's father, Lance Payne. "It really puts a lot of things into perspective for you."
Wudwud is expected to make a full recovery, but a few months ago, her parents were scared she wouldn't make it to her third birthday.
Hailey began having difficulty breathing, sleeping and eating last summer.
Payne said doctors were puzzled. After tests, scans and X-rays, they eventually found out she had choked on the plastic eye of a stuffed animal.
It was there so long it became embedded in her flesh and cut a hole in her airway. It took two surgeries to remove and Wudwud's throat started to collapse.
"We never believed that this would happen," said Payne. "I'd never feared a stuffed animal would do anything like this. It's just not something that you pay attention to.
"I wish that was different, but unfortunately I just trusted the toys."
The doctors used about one third of Wudwud's stomach to create a new throat, leaving her stomach much smaller in size.
She often becomes ill and vomits after eating because she doesn't know how much food her stomach — which is stretching back out — can handle.
Her parents said she still requires constant attention because the valves in her throat don't always close properly so she can't have liquids or mushy foods, like pudding.
Payne said it's difficult because her siblings always want to share whatever they are eating and drinking. Being able to eat real food again has been exciting for the little girl.
"She got to try Cheerios and some fruit and she was pretty ecstatic about it," said Payne. "She was just shaking the whole time; it was really awesome for her."
Wudwud's doctors did a contrast test with an X-ray to determine that there are no holes in her throat. Her progress with swallowing will be reassessed in a couple months.
"Since this procedure started when she was so young, and she hasn't had to swallow in such a long time, those muscles have actually relaxed. Same as any muscle we don't use, it just starts to soften," said Payne.
The family is optimistic she is getting close to making a full recovery.
Payne said they are looking forward to eating Thanksgiving dinner together, with Wudwud at the table and enjoying the meal. And since she had a surgery on her second birthday, he said he wants to spoil her at Christmas.
He said Wudwud's five brothers and sisters consider her to be a super hero.
"This has brought us together so much more than I think anything else could have. I'd rather it was something else. She is just so precious now you just look at her differently."
The family has set up a GoFundMe to help cover the costs of their trips to Saskatoon for Wudwud's treatments. Payne said the entire ordeal has cost them upwards of $20,000.