UAE doctors save child who swallowed magnetic beads

Paediatricians warn of the dangers magnets pose to children, after toy damages young girl's intestinal lining

An X-ray image taken on March 8 of  6-year-old Althea Faye Barabacina with 11 high-powered magnets in her intestines. Courtesy Medeor Hospital

Doctors saved the life of a six-year-old girl after she swallowed 11 magnetic beads, which damaged the walls of her intestine.

It is thought Althea Faye Barabacina ate the items a week before symptoms began to occur.

She started to vomit and feel severe abdominal pain, and appeared pale and dehydrated, so her parents rushed her to Medeor Hospital, where the doctors initially diagnosed an intestinal infection.

Ten of the magnetic beads had formed a ring in one place, while one was on the other side of the abdomen

Specialist paediatrician Dr Jamuna Raghuraman examined Althea and referred her for an ultrasound to confirm his early suspicion of infection.

However, upon seeing the results the doctor was stunned to see the presence of metal in the young girl's body.

"The symptoms manifested by the child indicated an intestinal infection," Dr Raghuraman said.

“I was shocked to see some flashy substances in the scan. The intestines were swollen and appeared obstructed, showing high-level infection, which was unusual. I quickly referred the child for a CT scan.

“We found the presence of a metallic substance in the form of a string of beads in the CT scan. But initially, Althea didn’t confirm swallowing anything. Maybe out of fear.

"But she confessed to her mother in a few minutes that she had accidentally swallowed magnetic beads while playing at home,” he said.

High-powered magnetic beads recovered from baby Althea's intestines. Courtesy Medeor Hospital

The child ingested the super strong magnetic balls, which join together to form a string. The magnets can stick to each other even through the walls of the stomach or intestines.

The resulting injuries can vary from blockages and holes in the tissue to blood poisoning and death.

Although they are banned in many countries because of the risks posed to children tempted to swallow the toy, some governments have allowed shops to sell them again.

In 2018, a US federal judge overturned a 2012 ban on the sale of the toy, making it legal to sell them in America again, albeit in a lockable box with a warning not to allow children or animals to play with them unsupervised.

Coins, buttons, batteries, magnets and safety pins are the most common foreign objects swallowed by children and doctors urge parents to monitor their young children when in the vicinity of these items.

Althea Faye Barabacina and mother with Dr. Pinkesh Laxmikant Thakkar and Dr. Jamuna Raghuraman after recovery at Medeor Hospital Dubai. Courtesy Medeor Hospital

After being rushed to the operating room, Althea underwent an hour-long operation to removed the beads from her stomach.

Dr Pinkesh Laxmikant Thakkar is one of the doctors who saved the girl's life.

“By God’s grace, nothing happened. Any further delay could have affected the well-being of the child.

"The foreign substance had already damaged the walls of her intestine in three parts. Ten of the magnetic beads had formed a ring in one place, while one was on the other side of the abdomen.

"We are happy that the child is perfectly all right. She was in observation for five days. She is now healthy and fit,” he said.

Althea's father, Elmer Barbacina, expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the doctors for their successful intervention.

“We are relieved that our daughter is safe. When the doctors informed us that she had swallowed magnets, we were terrified.

"We are grateful to Dr Jamuna and Dr Pinkesh for their care and support,” he said.