Magnet boy's pains brushed aside

A mother of a three-year-old boy whose stomach was punctured by tiny magnets that he had swallowed is taking on authorities over how he was treated - and why the toy is sold to kids.

Lila Vagana of Auckland said her son Zephaniah had to endure seven weeks of agony after swallowing small magnetic metal balls that make up the adult desk toy Buckyballs.

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

Vagana said they shouldn't be given to young children but she was also upset at Starship Children's Hospital who, she said, would not listen.

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

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

Zeph - as he is known - 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.

Vagana remembered now that Zeph caused the airport security alarm to go off: "They had a quick look at him, and he had nothing in his pockets."

In Sydney Zeph began vomiting and complained 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 hydrolyte 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.

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

A second trip later in the month still saw no realisation that the boy's problem was not in his lungs.

With him continually getting sicker and in more pain, 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.

She said the thing was scary, especially as Zeph seemed to be deteriorating quickly.

"He was looking very sick and losing weight.''

Back at Starship, the medical staff realised that the stomach had not been checked.

When it was the Buckyballs were clearly seen inside, having formed a bracelet shape.

She was upset that the medical teams at the hospital did not check further and was taking a complaint to the Health and Disabilities Commission.

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

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

He should suffer no long term effects but would need to be monitored to ensure his bowel did not repair itself incorrectly.

Zeph would not be getting any small toys for Christmas tomorrow however.

"Bucky balls shouldn't be given to children.''

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

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

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

The commission had documented about 20 reports of kids who had 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.