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Mom warns about toy magnets after son swallows 13, needs emergency surgery

Ingesting multiple magnets poses a huge risk for children.
/ Source: TODAY

Only a few days after Christmas, Beck White’s holiday turned tragic after a piece from a building blocks toy broke open and he swallowed 13 magnets. His mother, Jennifer White, shared his story on Facebook, to warn others of the dangers of magnets.

“I feel guilty AF and horrible posting this but I don’t want another child to go through this. If you have little ones or chewers these are dangerous and we’re removing them from our home. Dogs could break these open, too,” she shared in a post.

At first when 4-year-old Beck started vomiting, White thought he had the flu. But his vomit looked so unusual she worried about him.

"He started to vomit a very dark color. It looked like coffee grounds. At that point I knew something was very wrong," she told TMJ4 In Milwaukee.

White rushed Beck to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where doctors removed part of his colon, intestine and appendix, according to her Facebook post. While doctors removed the magnets, Beck, who also has autism, is still struggling with an infection.

“Beck is doing well and mostly sleeping which is good because it will be easier to rid the infection in his stomach,” White shared on Facebook.

TODAY has reached out to Jennifer White and Children's Hospital for comment. Meanwhile, White's message to other parents is important.

While many parents might not understand that tiny magnets are dangerous and ingesting multiple magnets poses a huge risk for children. Magnets become lodged in different places of the body and they start to pull toward one another. That’s when the problems begin.

“The pull of the magnetic force through the wall of the intestine or the stomach can eat away at your intestine or stomach, causing an infection. Now, the magnet is not going to leave your body,” Jennifer Hoekstra, an injury prevention specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY.

That's exactly what happened to Beck.

"When he individually ingested them they were doing what magnets do and trying to get to each other through his intestines. And it created holes," White said.

Sometimes magnets clump together and create an obstruction. Dr. Kris Jatana, who did not treat Beck, has seen children with magnets stuck in their esophagus and trachea and even had to remove two magnets from each nostril of a boy’s nose earlier this year.

“The hole in the cartilage of the septum was small enough we could repair it,” the associate professor of otolaryngology at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus told TODAY. “Smaller magnets cause perforation and need reconstructive surgery.”

Check toys for magnets

Seeking immediate treatment for a child who swallowed magnets remains essential.

“We can’t delay treatment,” Hoekstra said. “It is really, really important that parents are very mindful of what stuff in the house has magnets.”

Jatana agreed.

“Parents and caregivers need to consistently check toys, games, other household products, which maybe aren’t even designed for children, that may contain multiple small magnets or button batteries. Small high power magnets and the button batteries in the household setting are a significant danger for children and can be life threatening,” he said.

In 2017, there were an estimated 251,700 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments, with an estimated 36 percent of the injuries happening to children under the age of 5, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Most of the injuries occurred while children were riding nonmotorized scooters.

White had no idea magnets posed such a risk.

"I really thought these were safe. Absolutely thought he would be OK. If I had an inkling that this would have happen I would have just got rid of them," said White.

While Hoekstra said that most toys that have magnets in them are labeled for children “6 and up,” younger children often discover magnets when they play with older children’s toys. She urges parents to keep all magnetic items in one place so that they can keep track of where they are.

“Magnets are one of those little things with big dangers,” Hoekstra said. “We want to make sure parents closely monitor them.”