Swallowed Magnets Attract Trouble in Boy's Intestines

Boys will be boys and they've been known to swallow everything from dirt to marbles.

In April Braden Eberle swallowed a piece from an old Magnetix toy set.

"He was screaming and crying, saying he'd swallowed the toy," said Jill Eberle, Braden's mother. "It was a piece of the bar, the very end, this magnet piece."

Eberle wasn't too worried, but the next day it happened again.

"I accidentally swallowed the magnet," the 4-year-old told his mom.

"Somehow, some way, he got another piece loose, and I said, 'OK, that's enough,'" Eberle said. "I went to the toy. I didn't find any loose pieces. I didn't find any broken pieces, but I still picked up the toy and put it in a different room. I truly thought that was the end of it."

But that was just the beginning. Braden woke up in the middle of the night with a stomachache.

Eberle took him to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., where Dr. Sanjeev Dutta examined Braden's tender belly, though Braden didn't look or act that sick.

"What caught my attention though was the nature of the thing that was swallowed and that made me very concerned," Dutta said.

Cautionary Tale

Swallowing magnets can be very dangerous. In fact the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 27 cases of intestinal injuries and one death from ingesting Magnetix magnets alone.

Dutta took an X-ray and saw that the magnets were stuck together — not directly but through the walls of two different parts of Braden's intestine.

"This was significantly dangerous," Dutta said. "When you squeeze on the bowel wall, it can perforate and stool can leak out."

Dutta was adamant that the magnets be surgically removed immediately.

"I cried. I couldn't believe it. I never, ever thought it would have stayed in him, ever," Eberle said.

"And that's when the anger came that it was all about a toy," she said.

The toy is for ages 6 and up, though there's a choking warning for children younger than 3. Braden was 4 and Eberle said she had taken extra precautions with the toy.

"We took the balls out of the set. I truly thought I was doing the right thing, that that was our biggest danger. And apparently, these rods were the biggest danger of all, the magnets inside the rods," she said.

Mega Brands had recalled and redesigned Magnetix sets in March 2006, but the Eberles had not seen the recall.

In the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine released this week, Dutta writes about Braden's case as a cautionary tale for other physicians. He urges vigilance, even if a child shows few symptoms.

"Magnets, when we were kids, were made of ferrite," Dutta said. "The new magnets are exponentially more powerful than the ferrite magnets. When they swallow these magnets, they could die from this."

Dutta removed the magnets with laparoscopic surgery, but Braden spent six days in the hospital because the magnets caused an infection. Eberle wants other parents to understand just how dangerous magnets can be.

"These are dangerous toys," she said. "And I really, really wish I would have seen something like this before, before it came to our house."

But perhaps Braden sums it up best: "Um, don't swallow the magnet."

Newer Magnetix products, which are still on the market, have been designed so the magnets are enclosed in a casing.

Mega Brands said it is developing a new line that will be compatible with Magnetix and is designed with magnets in plastic pieces that cannot be swallowed, which will be available in July 2008.