Mom says 8-year-old daughter was injured by magnets in reusable water balloon

Kelley Whitty said doctors discovered six magnets inside her daughter's nose.

July 20, 2023, 4:02 AM

An Ohio mom says her 8-year-old daughter was injured by magnets from a reusable water balloon.

Kelley Whitty of Morrow, Ohio, told "Good Morning America" her daughter Leah was swimming earlier this month at a family friend's house, where they had reusable water balloons, soft silicone balls with a magnetic closure that allows them to be refilled.

During the play date, Whitty said she received a frantic phone call from the friend.

"She was like, 'Leah got out [of the pool], grabbed a towel, wiped her face and just started screaming,'" Whitty recounted. "She's like, 'We're not sure what's going on. She keeps saying she's got burning and stinging in her nose.'"

Whitty, a mom of five, said she picked up Leah from the friend's house and took her to a local children's hospital, where she said doctors and nurses were at first "baffled" by what was wrong.

She said doctors soon discovered "something shiny" in Leah's nose.

PHOTO: Kelley Whitty's daughter Leah was treated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Kelley Whitty's daughter Leah was treated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Courtesy Kelley Whitty

At the same time, Whitty said she confirmed with the friend at whose home Leah had been swimming that she found small, loose magnets in the area where Leah grabbed a towel to wipe her face.

Later on, the friend confirmed also finding one of the reusable water balloons that was missing the magnets inside, according to Whitty. She said the family stored pool toys, including the reusable water balloons, in the same contained area as towels, including the one that Leah used.

At the hospital, Whitty said Leah was sedated so that doctors could perform a small surgical procedure, during which they removed six small magnets from her nose.

"There ended up being four on one side and two on the other,” said Whitty, adding that the magnets had “bonded” to Leah’s nasal septum.

Medical records provided to "GMA" by Whitty confirm that Leah had six magnets removed from her nose, and was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist for a follow-up appointment.

Over a week since the incident, Whitty said her daughter is healing well and is taking a prescribed antibiotic to prevent infection in the injured area. She said Leah is not expected to have any lasting damage in her nose.

Whitty said she shared Leah's story on Facebook in hopes of alerting other parents and caregivers to the potential dangers of reusable water balloons, which have emerged this summer as a popular toy.

PHOTO: Kelley Whitty is speaking out after her 8-year-old daughter was injured by magnets from a refillable silicone water balloon.
Kelley Whitty is speaking out after her 8-year-old daughter was injured by magnets from a refillable silicone water balloon.
Courtesy of Kelley Whitty

"I never expected it to get as much attention as it has, but I'm glad that it has because the word is definitely getting out," Whitty said. "The more people it reaches, the better."

Medical professionals share warnings about small magnets

Whitty's social media post about Leah's experience caught the attention of other medical professionals, including Megan Conover, a physician assistant in the Boise, Idaho, area, and Dr. Meghan Martin, a pediatric emergency medicine physician in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Conover and Martin, neither of whom treated Leah, told "GMA" that magnets can cause a problem or tissue injury when there is more than one magnet attracted together inside the body.

"Magnets pose a danger and an issue when there are multiple because of the pull between the magnets," Conover said. "They pull together inside the body like they do in the balloons and if they pull together and there's tissue, whether it's your intestines, your nose, your sinuses between them, it cuts off blood supply, and it's kind of like a hose getting kinked in an artery, so the blood can't flow through anymore. When that happens, the tissue dies and you get holes."

Martin said she often sees magnet injuries at the pediatric ER at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, including at least one case so far of an injury involving a magnet from a reusable water balloon.

PHOTO: The refillable silicone water balloons that Whitty's friend had at home were purchased through Amazon.
The refillable silicone water balloons that Whitty's friend had at home were purchased through Amazon.
Courtesy of Kelley Whitty

The doctor, who posted a warning about reusable balloons on TikTok, said these magnets are often very small, ranging in size from 2 to 3 millimeters.

"Some of these magnets can pop out very easily, and these are the ones that I'm most concerned about," Martin said. "But any magnets, any small magnets that are pretty strong are a concern to cause injuries in the pediatric population."

She continued, "They're very easy for a small child to ingest or to put in their nose or their ears or something like that, where they could be a problem."

Martin recommends parents and adults watch out for magnets in toys and small products around children, and to make sure magnets are secured. She also suggests considering water balloon alternatives that do not contain magnets.

"Sometimes, it's not as easy to see [magnets], like, you wouldn't expect them to be in a small refillable water balloon," Martin said. "Those toys get broken, those magnets can be exposed and can cause a problem with kids, so, if toys with magnets are broken, they need to be removed from the household and thrown away."

PHOTO: Whitty captured a photo of the six small magnets that were removed from her daughter Leah's nose.
Whitty captured a photo of the six small magnets that were removed from her daughter Leah's nose.
Courtesy of Kelley Whitty

Last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approved new federal safety standards to reduce children and teens' risk from small, high-powered magnets after reports of at least seven deaths caused by ingesting them.

The new standards require loose or separate magnets in products intended to be used for entertainment, jewelry, mental stimulation and stress relief to be either too large to swallow or weak enough to reduce the risk of internal injuries.

According to the CPSC, over 26,000 cases of magnet ingestion were treated in hospital emergency rooms for magnet ingestion from 2010 through 2021, with cases rising annually since 2018.

Since her daughter's injury, Whitty said she has retained a lawyer to discuss a possible product deficiency lawsuit and said she doesn't think "anybody should have to go through that, whether it be a parent or a child."

"These products are marketed to kids, there's no warning labels on them. I'm trying to be a voice for [Leah], as well as other kids," Whitty said. "If anything, I want them recalled and made safer so that kids can enjoy these and they can have fun."

"GMA" has been unable to reach the company behind the reusable water balloon product for comment.

The reusable water balloon product that was at the home of Whitty's family friend is recommended for children ages 15 and older, according to the product listing on Amazon, where Whitty said the family friend purchased the product.

The product listing also states that the balloons are "suitable for most people," including children.

Amazon told "GMA" in a statement Wednesday it has removed the reusable water balloon product from its website, "while we investigate."

“We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws, regulations and Amazon policies. We ensure our selection meets industry-accepted standards, and we develop innovative tools to prevent unsafe products from being listed," Amazon said in a statement. "We continuously monitor our store, and if we discover a product was undetected by our automated checks, we address the issue immediately and refine our controls. We take action to maintain a safe selection for our customers, including removing noncompliant products, and outreach to sellers, manufacturers, and government agencies for additional information, when appropriate."

"The product in question has been removed while we investigate," the statement continued. "If customers have concerns about an item they’ve purchased, we encourage them to contact our Customer Service directly so we can investigate and help resolve their issue. We also protect every purchase in our store with our A-to-z Guarantee, if a customer receives a product that is not in the condition expected, Amazon will refund or replace that item.”

The company has not been able to verify the incident that Whitty described to "GMA."

Amazon, which notes regulations for magnet products on its website, said it has not received reports from customers of incidents involving the reusable water balloon product.