Powerful Magnets: Small Toys Can Pack a Deadly Punch

Nov 10, 2011 6:00am

Tonya Monteith knew something was wrong with her son Jericho, but doctors just couldn’t figure it out. The 18-month-old was vomiting, lethargic, and spiked a fever of 104 degrees.  Frantic after four days when the toddler only seemed to grow worse, Monteith raced Jericho to an emergency room where an ultrasound finally revealed the problem.

“They came back and said he had three metal spheres in his lower right abdomen, and they asked if I knew what it was,” said Monteith, who lives in Las Vegas. It turned out the spheres were tiny high-powered magnets, part of a set that belonged to Monteith’s 16 year old nephew.  Somehow Jericho had found a few loose magnets, and swallowed them.

“They had attached themselves to each other through his intestines”, said Monteith, “and everywhere that those magnets touched ate through his intestines.”

Doctors rushed Jericho into surgery and were forced to remove three inches of his small intestine, and six inches of his large intestine. The toddler spent two weeks in the ICU. Jericho is not alone.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is now sounding its first ever warning about kits containing high powered magnets, often marketed to adults as desk toys or stress reducers. The magnets can be linked to form patterns or shapes.

“They are office toys”, said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenebaum, “They unfortunately are finding their way into the hands of children to devastating result.”

The CPSC has reports of 21 incidents involving the magnets. In 16 cases they were swallowed and 10 children needed surgery to remove them. The problem is growing. Just one incident in 2009, seven in 2010, and 13 already this year.

“Many times parents take their child to a doctor multiple times before it is even diagnosed,” said Tenebaum. She urged parents to “keep all magnets away from children,” and if you have them in the house and suspect your child may have swallowed them, “go immediately to the physician and ask for an x-ray so you can determine whether or not these magnets have reached the intestines of your child.”

According to the CPSC, it’s not just young children who’ve ingested these strong magnets.

“Also teenagers are accidently swallowing the magnets while using them to fake a body piercing such as a tongue ring,” Tenenbaum said.

For Jericho Monteith, who is now 28-months-old, the medical problems are far from over.

“There are some foods he will never be able to eat,” says Mom Tonya, “He can’t have any fried foods; he can’t have whole milk, only two percent milk.”

Jericho will also need additional surgery, for a hernia caused by the first surgery.  Still, Tonya Monteith feels lucky.

“If they didn’t get it out in time,” she told ABC News, her voice breaking, “I mean, I can’t even imagine what the result would have been if I wouldn’t have caught it.”

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