Boy’s gut partly removed after swallowing magnets

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X-ray of magnets in a child's gutImage copyright

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The tiny magnets can cause erosions and holes in the bowel

The mother of a three-year-old boy who had part of his intestine removed after swallowing magnets has said he is lucky not to have permanent damage.

Tomás Quinn, from Newry, had to have emergency surgery in April to remove 29 of the tiny magnetic balls he ingested.

Magdalena Quinn said: “He is a really lucky boy. But the damage that they did is absolutely unreal.”

A Belfast hospital said 19 children between two and 14-years-old needed treatment for magnet ingestion in 2019.

Three of them had to have major surgery at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC):

  • A three-year-old who had 49 magnets removed from his stomach
  • A 13-year-old girl who had a section of her gut cut away and will have a risk of adhesions for life
  • A five-year-old who required a laparotomy to remove three magnets

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Magdalena Quinn

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Surgeons patched up 14 holes in little Tomás Quinn’s intestines

Ms Suzanne Lawther, a consultant in paediatric surgery at RBHSC, said: “They (the magnetic ball toys) are about 10 times stronger than traditional magnets and if the magnets end up on either side of a piece of the digestive tract, the magnetic force is so strong that it actually interferes with the blood supply.

“They can cause that bit of bowel to die and ultimately to develop a hole or sometimes abnormal connections between different parts of the bowel which left untreated can make children and adults very unwell and be potentially life-threatening.”

Of those 19 children who attended RBHC emergency department last year having swallowed magnets, just under half (42%) were aged under five and had swallowed magnetic ball toys.

The other 58% were aged 10 or older and had accidentally swallowed fake piercings made from magnets.

The RBHSC surgical team also saw and operated on children from all over Northern Ireland referred for specialist surgery.

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Magnetic toys like this are typically swallowed by under-fives

If more than one magnet is ingested, they can cause erosions and holes in the bowel which can cause sepsis and death if not recognised and operated on in time.

‘They burned holes in the intestines’

Tomás Quinn was referred from Craigavon Area Hospital.

His mother added: “When I saw the X-ray for the first time I was thinking: ‘Oh my goodness how did that happen?’

“The magnets were trapped in between different parts of Tomás’ intestines.

“Two of them were too close together so they had to remove part of his intestines and patch up 14 holes. So he has loads of scar tissue in his intestines now.

“They burned holes in the intestines. Whenever they opened him up some of his intestines already leaked out.

“The surgeons told me they found 28 balls.

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Magdalena Quinn

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Tomás’ scar has healed but his parents say they will have to be vigilant for the the rest of his life

“(When) they put him together they sent him for an X-ray and one of the wee ones was hiding somewhere so they had to take all the intestines back out again and search bit by bit through it to find that wee grain.

“I was beating myself up something crazy – I still feel guilt. He is grand now but we have to look out, after the type of surgery he had, we have to look out for the rest of his life.”

Mrs Quinn said she wanted to speak out to warn other parents of the dangers posed by the magnetic ball toys, which had been bought online for her older son.

“My message is please stay away from the magnets – no matter how clever you think your children are, accidents can happen.”

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