Doctors warn tiny toy magnets are major health risk for kids

POSTED: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 2:30pm

UPDATED: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 2:34pm

Johns Hopkins Children's Center is reporting an increase in cases of children ingesting mini magnets, as U.S. consumer advocates work to get the magnets off the market.

Small magnets known as Zen Magnets or BuckyBalls are being marketed for older kids or adults, but doctors said they're causing health problems for young children.

The rare-earth magnets are small, circular-shaped magnets that are so powerful they can reconnect once ingested and cause serious internal injury.

The magnets are marketed to people 14 and older, but doctors said they've seen an increase in the number of kids ingesting them.

"They can actually pinch off the stomach or the bowels, and they can create holes in the intestine," said Hopkins Dr. Maria Oliva-Hemker.

She said the Children's Center has treated several cases in the past six months.

Laura Bjarnason said she found her son, 19-month-old Pressley, with the small magnets in his hand last week.

She didn't know that he'd swallowed any, but something told her to get him checked out, which was a good idea.

"We had him X-rayed, and they found the magnets. He had swallowed 18 of them," Bjarnason said.

Pressley is now back to his playful self at the family's home in Edgewater, Maryland but during the ordeal, he spent hours in a doctor's office having the magnets pulled out of his stomach.

"They were very close to having to do abdominal surgery to remove them because the magnets are that strong that they were having a hard time getting them out with the scope," Bjarnason said.

The magnets didn't make it to the boy's small intestine, and doctors were able to get them out with a scope.

"But many children have had to go to surgery to get these removed because of the holes that have developed in the stomach," Oliva-Hemker said.

Doctors said they want parents to know that a child swallowing the magnets is an emergency, and don't assume that they'll pass through their system.

"You definitely don't want to wait. You want to seek medical attention," Oliva-Hemker said.

"I can't describe it. I've been through quite a few things in my life, and this far exceeds any of them," Bjarnason said. "It was extremely emotional, and I'm just so thankful that he's here and that's he's OK."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has filed complaints against the companies that make BuckyBalls and Zen Magnets in an attempt to get them off the market, the most recent of which was filed Tuesday.

Both companies are fighting the complaints.

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