This is the story of a little boy who swallowed a magnet and then wound up in 1 the hospital
Actually, Braden Eberle, 4, of San José, California, swallowed two tiny magnets from his older brother's construction kit on two successive days.
After the first ingestion, he confessed to his mom, Jill Eberle, whose first reaction was that the magnet would pass through her son's system without a problem. "People swallow pennies of the same size every day," she said. "They're smaller than an eraser."
But by dinnertime on the day after Braden swallowed the second magnet, he developed stomach pains. His mother thought it was either the flu or the magnets. "The magnets never left my mind," she said.
The next morning, with Braden still in pain, the family's doctor told them to go straight to the emergency room. An X-ray revealed the two magnets were stuck together.
But not stuck together the way you would think. Each had been ingested separately and both were in different segments of the intestine.
"They were attracted to each other, with the wall of each segment they were in stuck together," said Sanjeev Dutta, MD, the pediatric surgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital who would operate on Braden later that day. "Because they were so powerful, the wall of the intestine was getting squeezed, squeezed, squeezed, and then it just necrosed, or kind of rotted away, and created a hole between the two."
Using minimally invasive laparoscopy, Dr. Dutta removed both magnets with three small incisions during a procedure that lasted two hours. Braden went home three days after the operation.
Dr. Dutta, who is also an assistant professor of surgery and pediatrics at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital of Stanford University (which provides pediatric surgical services to Good Samaritan), has co-authored an article on the episode, which is published in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
About two weeks later, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) updated an earlier warning about magnet-containing toys. Several construction sets, similar to the one Braden played with, have since been recalled.
According to the CPSC, there has been at least one death attributed to magnet ingestion, and at least 19 children required surgery after they swallowed magnets or pieces of metal (that can get stuck to the magnet).
Many of today's toys contain "rare-earth" magnets. "It's a new type of magnet that's extremely powerful, many times more powerful than the magnets that we used to play with," Dr. Dutta explained.
Dr. Dutta wants to make sure that parents are aware of this risk. "It seems like such a benign thing," he said. "[But these things look like candy to a 3-year-old."
"It all happened because of a toy," said Eberle. "I didn't comprehend it. It was surreal. He knew to run to us. That probably saved him. He knew to tell us that, thank God, or I would've thought it was the flu."
For her part, Jill Eberle started getting rid of all magnetic toys in her house, even the huge ones. But 10 months later, she is still finding the little pieces.
"They're stuck to the side of a wall or a computer table," she said. "They're not gone yet."