Rossen Reports

Metal water bottles can endanger kids

Jan. 9, 2013 at 10:33 AM ET

A warning for parents about those metal water bottles popular with kids -- and this one is surprising.

A lot of us buy metal water bottles for our kids. But we found these metal bottles are causing a new problem: kids getting their tongues stuck inside.

It may sound like a joke, but doctors say it's serious -- so serious, one company has stopped selling many of them.

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Mary Kate Person got her tongue trapped inside a metal water bottle, the kind kids use every day. "I put my tongue in to get the last drops, and it just got stuck, like completely jammed into the bottle," she said.

It wouldn't budge. Medics rushed her to the ER, where doctors cut off the bottom of the bottle -- but her swollen tongue was still trapped by the narrow opening at the top.

Mary Kate's father, Andy Person, said: "The doctors said the two worst-case scenarios were: one, it could block her airway and she could suffocate, and two, her tongue would die, basically -- she wouldn't be able to speak anymore, she would lose her tongue."

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It took three hours of surgery to free her tongue. She spent another three days in intensive care, recovering.

"I immediately thought: 'All the other kids on the soccer field that have this exact same bottle,'" Andy Person said. "It could happen to any kid."

So how does it happen? Doctors believe that when some children stick their tongues in to take a drink, it creates a strong suction -- and metal bottle won't flex, causing the tongue to swell up inside. They think that the narrow neck and strong brass ridges on the bottle act like a noose, trapping the tongue.

While cases are rare, it also happened to an 8-year-old girl in Georgia and a 9-year-old boy in North Carolina. We spoke to Dr. Chad Whited, who removed the metal bottle from that boy's tongue.

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"A lot of parents watching this (are) saying: 'My kids drink out of these water bottles all the time; nothing has ever happened, and it won't ever happen to me,'" we said.

"Just like anything, any product that you give a kid, 99.99 percent of the time it's fine, until something happens to your kid," Dr. Whited said.

And if it does happen, it can be a serious procedure. Getting the bottle off requires special surgical tools. "Anytime you're using powered equipment near a child's face, it's very serious," Dr. Whited said.

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Luckily, Mary Kate recovered from her accident -- and now only uses a bottle with a straw. Here is her warning to other kids about metal bottles:

"It's a really big risk. I would never, ever take that risk."

Mary Kate's family is considering legal action against two companies who sell these metal bottles. One of them told NBC News that it's "saddened and concerned" to hear about her injury and that they "wish her well"; they've since pulled that kind of bottle off the market entirely. And other companies are taking it seriously too, telling us that while accidents are extremely rare, they're working with the government to study them.

Doctors say that if you have these metal bottles, the best thing to do is buy a sippy cap. The screw right onto the bottle, and they only cost a few dollars.

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