The boy’s parents first noticed the magnets among their children’s belongings, and realizing the potential danger, threw them away. But it was already too late, Arrington said — their youngest had found them before they did.
Soon Konin began complaining of acute stomach pain.
Arrington and her husband, still unaware that he had eaten the magnets, said they scheduled a doctor’s appointment but then decided to rush the child to the emergency room, feeling that his condition could be more serious.
They were shocked by what they learned next.
“On the X-ray, it showed a line that almost looked like a pull chain cord for a fan,” Arrington said, describing the high-powered magnetic balls that are marketed as a desk toy for adults.
Dr. Jenna Wheeler, a critical care physician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, said the hospital has treated four children for swallowing magnets from similar toys so far in 2021, according to CNN.
“The concern with swallowing these toys is that the intestines can become twisted and pinched between the magnets, which can cut off blood flow to the intestines,” Wheeler said. “If that segment of the intestines dies, it may need to be removed. And if not caught early enough, it could even lead to death.”
Wheeler said symptoms could be difficult to detect in a child who has swallowed toy magnets. She pointed to warning signs such as severe abdominal pain or a “hard” stomach, paleness or vomiting.
Arrington said her family’s experience could serve as a lesson for other parents to be more aware of certain toys that pose high risk to small children. She warned others to keep the magnets out of reach.
“I don’t think parents understand the amount of seriousness these desk toys have,” Arrington told CNN.
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that their kids are going to bring a toy home that could kill a younger sibling,” she said. “Me and my husband never thought we would have to pretty much pat our kids down when they come home from school and, yeah, you check your kids backpack and ask how their day was but how often do you go through their pant pocket? Their shirt pocket?”
A GoFundMe page has raised about $2,300 so far to help the family cover medical bills.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of high-powered magnet sets and ordered a recall of them in 2012, but that ruling was overturned by an appeals court in December 2016.
Since then, calls to U.S. poison control centers about kids and magnets increased more than 400%, according to a study conducted earlier this year by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
“A much greater danger exists when a magnet is swallowed along with another magnet or piece of metal,” according to the American College of Medical Toxicology. “When two or more such objects are swallowed, the magnetic attraction can pin the bowel walls together leading to a blockage or tearing of the bowel that is potentially deadly. In 2006, the CDC issued a warning regarding this unique hazard and recommended that children under age 6 should not have access to these items.”
In December 2018, a 4-year-old Wisconsin boy swallowed 13 magnets from a toy and had to have part of his colon and intestine removed after the pieces cut holes through his organs as they tried to connect to each other. Initially, his parents thought he just had the flu.