Surgeons Use Powerful Magnet to Pull String of Magnetic Beads From 3-Year-Old's Insides

Doctors saved a 3-year-old from developing a potentially deadly illness by pulling a string of dozens of magnetic toy beads from his insides. The child, identified only as Tomich, had swallowed 31 magnetic balls, according to a statement by health officials.

The boy's parents had taken him to an emergency children's hospital in the Siberian city of Tomsk just in time, the statement read, as the magnets in his intestine could have connected with those in his stomach. This could have lead to his intestinal tract perforating, leading to "severe peritonitis." That is an inflammation of the peritoneum membrane which lines the abdominal wall. If left untreated, it can lead to a potentially deadly infection called sepsis.

To treat the boy, surgeons carried out a procedure known as a fibrogastroscopy and used a powerful magnet to remove the balls from the boy's digestive system. A fibrogastroscopy involves putting a thin tube from the mouth into the stomach to allow doctors to examine a person's gullet, stomach, and duodenum.

Chief physician of BSMP No. 2 Andrei Karavaev said in a statement: "These are the hardest operations. If the magnets stick together, capturing the intestinal wall, then they will no longer separate themselves."

Only an operation can help such patients, he said. In these cases, a child's stomach and intestines look like they have been hit by "bullets after bullets," he said.

As a doctor who sees the consequences of swallowing magnets daily, he said the magnets should be banned from sale. Karavaev said he has encountered more than 10 incidents involving the objects in the past four years. In one case, a 12-year-old boy consumed 87 of the magnets.

"Children often take balls for pastry topping with cakes and pastries," explained Karavaev.

He warned that such magnets are able to interact with metals at a "very large distance." If only one ball is swallowed it "really easily comes out by itself," he said. But if two or three enter the body, they can interact with one another "pulling and squeezing the various sections of the gastrointestinal tract together, " said Karavaev.

In 2018, Newsweek reported the case of a 4-year-old boy who had part of his digestive system removed after he swallowed magnetic balls. Surgeons removed parts of Beck White's colon, intestines, and appendix after the magnets pierced holes in the boy's organs, and triggered an infection.

The American Association of Pediatrics has issued warnings against the "dangerous" magnets.

"These magnets are generally sold in sets of 100 or more, making it difficult for parents to recognize if a few magnets have gone missing. Although these products are labeled and designed for adults, they can easily find their way into the hands and mouths of children," the organisation warned.

magnetic balls, stock, getty
A stock image shows a string of magnetic balls, similar to those the 3-year-old swallowed. Getty