Boy's stomach punctured by magnets

22:15, Dec 23 2012

A mother of a three-year-old boy whose bowels were punctured by tiny super-magnets he swallowed is taking on health authorities over how he was treated.

Lala Vagana said her son, Xephaniah, had to endure seven weeks of agony after swallowing small magnetic balls that form the adult desk toy Buckyballs last month.

The magnets, which are the size of silver balls on cake decorations, worked through his stomach and punctured his bowels in four places as they came together to form a bracelet.

Vagana says they shouldn't be given to young children and is upset with Starship Children's Hospital who, she claims, would not listen to her when she took her son for treatment. She plans to complain to the Health and Disabilities Commission.

Had hospital staff x-rayed her son properly the first time, they would have noticed the problem weeks ago, she claims.

In November they x-rayed his lung, not his stomach.


"You tell them things like 'its right behind the bellybutton' but they pooh-poohed it saying 'children always say that' and that is where it was," Vagana said.

Xeph - as he is known for short - swallowed the magnets early in November, probably on a trip to Rotorua. His older sister had been given a Buckyball.

The family then flew to Australia for a family funeral. Going through the security gates, Vagana said Xeph set off the alarm, "they had a quick look at him, and he had nothing in his pockets".

In Sydney Xeph began vomiting and complaining of stomach pain. He was taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and they suggested he had a stomach ailment caused by swimming in a motel pool.

He was given antibiotics and hydrolytes iceblocks.

The pain was not continuous, but back in New Zealand he was ill again and his GP referred him to Starship for the first of a series of visits.

"Although we told them about his tummy, the first X-ray was because they wanted to look at his lungs, because he had been vomiting a lot," Vagana said.

The lung x-ray showed nothing and the boy was sent home.

A second trip later in the month still didn't uncover where the Xeph's pain was coming from.

As her son became more ill, a frustrated Vagana pointed out that she had health insurance and was willing to pay for ultrasound and better tests.

"They gave me a snarky reply saying 'if he is still presenting the symptoms bring him in'," she said.

Vagana said the experience was scary, especially as Xeph seemed to be deteriorating quickly.

"He was looking very sick and losing weight."

Back at Starship, the medical staff realised the boy's stomach had not been checked.

When it was the magnetic balls were seen inside in a bracelet shape.

Vagana is upset medical teams at the hospital did not check further, something she will base her Health and Disabilities Commission complaint on.

"You tell them exactly what is happening and they don't listen."

Xeph had surgery last week to remove the magnets and is "really happy and in much better spirits".

He should suffer no long term effects but will be monitored to ensure his bowels heal correctly.

Xeph will not be getting any small toys for Christmas, however.

"Bucky balls shouldn't be given to children. If it is an adult desk toy, then leave it with adults."

In the US, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the Consumer Product Safety Commission had requested a recall on Buckyballs and Buckycubes because they posed a serious health hazard to children who ingest them.

It said they are the only product that New York-based company Maxfield & Oberton offers; since the launch in 2009, more than 2.2 million sets have been sold.

The company is fighting the commission's complaint, claiming that because it markets the toy as a novelty product for adults and they include several warning labels explaining that the product is dangerous if swallowed and not intended for children under age 14 - it shouldn't have to halt production.

The commission has documented about 20 reports of kids that have eaten Buckyballs since 2009, including a four-year-old boy who mistook them for cake decorations and a 10-year-old girl who accidentally swallowed them after she'd put them in her mouth and pretended they were a tongue piercing.

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