Autopsy reveals cause of death for teen who died after eating spicy tortilla chip during viral challenge

Francis Akhalbey May 17, 2024
Harris Wolobah died after eating a spicy tortilla chip -- Photo via GoFundMe

Harris Wolobah, the 14-year-old whose family said he died after suffering complications from eating a very spicy chip in an attempt to partake in a viral social media challenge, also had a congenital heart defect, autopsy results obtained by The Associated Press revealed. 

The autopsy results stated that the Massachusetts teen’s death also stemmed from him consuming a large portion of chile pepper extract. As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, the 10th grader was partaking in the viral “One Chip Challenge” when he suffered medical complications.

The social media challenge involved participants eating what was deemed the world’s spiciest tortilla chip. Participants who ate the chip had to wait for a long while before consuming either water or food to alleviate the burning sensation. The chip, a product of Paqui and packaged in a coffin, had a warning that stated it should be kept out of children’s reach. People who either have an allergen or react to spicy food were also advised not to consume the chip.

“We were and remain deeply saddened by the death of Harris Wolobah and extend our condolences to his family and friends,” Paqui said in a statement on Thursday.

Harris’ cause of death was ruled as cardiopulmonary arrest “in the setting of recent ingestion of food substance with high capsaicin concentration.” Capsaicin, per ScienceDirect, is the “main chemical component of chili pepper.”

The autopsy further revealed that Harris had an enlarged heart – a condition known as cardiomegaly. He also suffered a congenital defect explained as “myocardial bridging of the left anterior descending coronary artery.”

Per Stanford Health Care, a “myocardial bridge is a usually harmless condition in which one or more of the coronary arteries goes through the heart muscle instead of lying on its surface.”

“It is possible that with significant stimulation of the heart, the muscle beyond the bridge suddenly had abnormal blood flow (‘ischemia’) and could have been a cause of a severe arrhythmia,”  Dr. James Udelson, chief of cardiology at Tufts Medical Center, told The Associated Press. “There have been reports of acute toxicity with capsaicin causing ischemia of the heart muscle.”

The “One Chip Challenge” has been in existence for many years. School principals in California’s Bay Area sent out a warning about the chip in 2022, stating that students who consumed the chip had to be sent home, per NBC10 Boston. Paqui’s web page for the challenge also stated that any participant who had breathing issues, fainted, or experienced prolonged nausea had to seek medical care.

Paqui in its statement on Thursday made mention of the chip’s “clear and prominent labeling highlighting that the product was not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or with underlying health conditions.”

“We saw increased reports of teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings,” the statement added. “As a result, while the product adhered to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we worked with retailers to voluntarily remove the product from shelves in September 2023, and the One Chip Challenge has been discontinued.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 17, 2024


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