“Don’t swallow magnets,” is the advice that four year-old Braden Eberle is giving to other children. Braden recently spent six days in the hospital recovering from surgery to remove magnets from his intestines. Last April Braden swallowed a piece from a Magnetix toy set. Braden somehow had gotten one of the magnets loose from one of the rods and swallowed it. His mother, Jill, was not that concerned and until the following day when it happened again. Braden once again had found a way to get another magnet free and again swallowed it. Jill says that she could not find any loose or broken pieces when examining the toy but still took the toy away and would not allow Braden to play it anymore. Jill thought that was the end of it, but she and Braden were not so lucky as they would soon find out.
Braden woke in the middle of the night with a stomachache. Concerned that the swallowed pieces could possibly be stuck Jill to Braden to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. There, Dr. Sanjeev Dutta examined Braden’s aching belly.
“What caught my attention though was the nature of the thing that was swallowed and that made me very concerned,” Dutta said.
Dutta was rightfully concerned as an x-ray quickly determined that the two magnetic pieces had in fact become stuck together through the walls of two different sections of Braden’s intestines. The strong magnets can squeeze together leading to perforation. This is a very dangerous and even fatal in some cases. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has 27 reported cases of this type of injury, including one death.
Braden underwent immediate surgery to have the pieces removed. He would spend the next six days recovering from surgery and an infection caused by the magnets. Dr. Dutta published this cautionary tale in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, available this week. He aims to warn other physicians about the dangers of ingested magnets and urges them to be vigilant even if a child shows very few symptoms.
Newer Magnetix toys have the small magnets incased in plastic to make them more difficult to remove and later in 2008 plans to release a new design with magnets in plastic pieces that cannot be swallowed.