Parents constantly protect their children. From the time a child is born, parents begin kid-proofing their home to ensure the safety of the youngster. As the child grows older, dangers tend to grow as well. A commonly overlooked hazard however, could mean life or death and adults need to be aware of the risk.
Small circular or button shaped lithium batteries seem harmless, but are a major health risk if ingested. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, over 2,800 children are treated in emergency rooms across the country each year after swallowing a lithium battery. One such emergency room visit to Castleview Hospital revealed just how serious this hazard is.
Wellington resident Michael Loveless, 3, was transported to the hospital July 2 after ingesting a lithium battery belonging to a remote control. After realizing what Michael had swallowed, his mom Marcy knew that her son was in danger, however, she didn’t realize how much danger he was in.
“He came up to me and said his mouth hurt,” she explained. “He was gagging, drooling and spitting up. At first he said he swallowed money. When he couldn’t even drink water, I knew something else was going on.” Further investigation revealed that the three year old had swallowed the remote control battery.
A quick call to poison control alerted the Loveless family to the health risk their son was facing. Without immediate medical attention and removal of the battery, Michael faced permanent damage to his health, even death. “These batteries react to saliva and actually cause electrical burns,” Marcy explained. “The burns can create holes in the lining of the the esophagus in a matter of hours.”
According to medical research, once a lithium battery is ingested, the body can generate an external current which causes hydroxide to be released from the negative pole of the device. Surrounding organs are immediately affected and electrical burns occur. The body responds to any foreign object in the digestive tract through elimination. Therefore, it is extremely important to know that vomiting or drinking water is not advised once a battery has been swallowed. Chemicals from the small device will rapidly spread throughout the body.
After arriving at the hospital, physicians quickly took x-rays of Michael’s esophagus. Results confirmed that the quarter sized object was lodged in the esophagus near the aorta. The longer the battery sat in Michael’s system the more damage it would cause. Eagle Air Med was dispatched quickly, the young patient stabilized and it was off to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
Once he arrived, Michael was quickly taken into surgery. Approximately 45 minutes into the procedure, medical staff briefed Marcy on her son’s condition. Doctors found a 5 cm area of burnt tissue around the battery site. Concern was raised regarding the possibility of holes forming in the esophagus. Physicians assured the worried mother that surgeons would repair all damage caused by the battery.
Following two hours of surgery, medical staff removed the object and verified that no holes were created by the incident. Because the esophagus was extremely swollen, a feeding tube was placed and would remain for nearly three weeks. Physicians also concluded that Michael’s aorta was not damaged.
After a three day hospital stay, Michael was released and returned home with his family. “We are so grateful he is alright,” a relieved Marcy explained. “He has been great about the whole thing. He is just a normal, energetic three year old.”
Still on a liquid diet, Michael has returned to his normal self. “He is getting used to popsicles and pudding,” Marcy stated. “Scarring could occur and the liquid diet is just a precaution. He will have tests done in October to determine if any scarring has occurred. If necessary, they (doctors) can stretch his esophagus if it begins to close or narrow.”
Even though the battery was only in Michael’s body for five hours, the damage was significant. One look at the small device reveals how quickly lithium batteries deteriorate in the human body. “We were lucky to figure out right away what he had swallowed,” explained the relieved mom. “I read about a young girl dying in Australia after swallowing the same type of battery. She wasn’t treated and passed away in three days.”
Parents need to be aware of devices that contain batteries similar to the one Michael ingested. Remote controls, watches, calculators, cameras, key fobs, flashlights and even children’s toys contain small lithium batteries. “I just want to get the word out,” Marcy stated. “I hope by getting the message out, a life may be saved.”
The battery which Michael swallowed is currently being tested by Poison Control. “Because of increased problems with these batteries, they are trying to learn more about them,” Marcy said.
To learn more about the dangers of lithium batteries, visit safekids.org. Parents are also encouraged to post the following emergency numbers in case an accident like Michael’s occurs.
Poison Control 1-800-222-1222
National Battery Ingestion Hotline (202) 625-3333