Teen with heart defect died after eating spicy tortilla chip, autopsy finds

WORCESTER, Mass. (WWLP) – A Massachusetts teenager’s death was caused by a spicy tortilla chip he ingested as part of a social media challenge, an autopsy had determined.

Harris Wolobah, a 14-year-old student at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, died on Sept. 1, 2023, hours after eating an extremely spicy chip sold by a brand known as Paqui.

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In an autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press this week, the Massachusetts medical examiner’s office said Wolobah’s cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, as a result of ingesting a food substance with high capsaicin concentration.

The autopsy report also mentioned that the teenager had an enlarged heart and a congenital heart defect.

Teen Death Spicy Chips
A Paqui One Chip Challenge chip is displayed in Boston, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Steve LeBlanc)

The Paqui chip, which had been sold individually for about $10, came wrapped in foil in a coffin-shaped box containing the warning that it was intended for the “vengeful pleasure of intense heat and pain.” The packages also challenged consumers to eat one of its super-spicy chips — and try to last as long as possible without seeking a drink — as part of a “One Chip Challenge” that gained popularity on social media.

Less than a week after Wolobah’s death, Paqui pulled its “One Chip Challenge” products from stores. At the time, Paqui said the chips were intended for adults only, and not for children, pregnant people or those with underlying health conditions.

“We are actively working with retailers and are offering refunds for any purchases of our single-serve one chip challenge products,” the brand said.

The chips are no longer available for sale online, though customers wishing to be reimbursed for unopened packages of Paqui Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper chips, released in 2023, can still start the process at Paqui’s website.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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