AURORA, Colo. — Parents and a doctor warn a popular toy may be a magnet for disaster, after seeing an increase in the number of children swallowing the small but powerful magnets.
The strong magnets are sold in local stores and online, often coming in packets containing 250 to 1,000 of the small bb-sized round magnets.
“We are starting to see more of these high power magnet ingestions now that they are back on the market,” said Dr. Robert Kramer, Co-medical Director of the Digestive Health Institute and the Director of Endoscopy at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Ella McBrien, 2, was at home with her father Kyle when she swallowed 28 of the small magnets. Her dad had the magnets on his desk and had stepped away to use the bathroom. When he came back, he saw Ella had the magnets in her hand and worried, knowing she liked to put toys in her mouth.
“It was terrifying,” said Ella’s mother Elizabeth McBrien. “I was losing it, he luckily kept it together.”
At Children’s Hospital Colorado, doctors took x-rays and found the magnets had linked together to form a circle inside Ella’s bowel. Two magnets had pinched of piece of the bowel so the magnets were stuck.
“They were pinching bowel and causing the early formation of a hole within the bowel by the time we got in there,” said Dr. Kramer.
After the first procedure failed to retrieve the magnets, Dr.Kramer was able to use a specialized endoscopy to get them, and Ella was able to avoid a major surgery. Dr.Kramer said Ella is lucky, especially considering how some outcomes end with doctors removing parts of the intestine if magnets cause holes.
“That can have very significant implications,” said Dr. Kramer. “In the worst cases there has been deaths associated with these.”
In 2013, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled Buckyballs after seeing large numbers of children swallowing the high power magnets. In 2016, courts reversed the decision. Now, Buckyballs are sold online and in stores, and other brands have created similar products with the high power magnets.
“We are seeing these cases come back again. And cases like [Ella’s] where we have to do significant intervention,” said Dr. Kramer.
Kyle and Elizabeth hope sharing Ella’s story will alert other parents of the dangers of the magnets around young children.
“It sounds as benign as humanly possible — magnets, you don’t think anything of it. I think just to understand exactly what the true risk is,” said Kyle McBrien.
Her parents report Ella was up and running around within a few hours of surgery. They’re grateful for the outcome, knowing how much different it could have been.
“Huge relief, huge relief,” said Elizabeth McBrien. “So see her now, she clearly doesn’t look like she had two procedures last week.”
Doctors say if you think your child swallowed a magnet, immediately take them to the doctor.