190923 abdomen
A total of seven magnetic balls have successfully been recovered from the abdomen of a 13-month-old boy in the capital.The little boy, Mohammad Omar, was doing well four days after the surgery, and has now been discharged. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Seven magnetic balls were recovered from the abdomen of a 13-month-old boy in the capital.

The child, Mohammad Omar, was doing well four days after the surgery, and has now been discharged.

Dr Adel Al Junaibi, consultant paediatric surgeon at the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), told Gulf News that such cases in which foreign objects are swallowed are not common, yet they are seen every three months or so.

Risks of foreign objects

“While the risk depends on what is swallowed, this one was a particularly risky case. If the boy had not been brought in on time, the bowel perforations created by the magnets attracting one another could have allowed bacteria and faecal matter to spill into the bloodstream, creating a risk for sepsis, organ failure and even death,” Dr Al Junaibi said.

According to his parents, it was a rare set of circumstances that allowed little Mohammad to swallow the magnetic balls, each three millimetres in diameter. The family, which includes four older children aged three to ten years, were in the process of moving house, with all their furniture packed in storage boxes.

“We had a few people over and someone found the magnetic balls. Since there was no furniture, I guess the balls may have been lying around,” said Reem Nayef, 33, a homemaker and Mohammad’s mother.

One night, as Mohammad was nursing, he suddenly vomited, and Nayef noticed that his hands and body appeared to be cold. She remembered seeing the magnetic balls, and had a sudden fear that her son had swallowed them.

Medical intervention

Magnetic balls in stomach: X-ray

Dr Al Junaibi, who is also vice president of the UAE Paediatric Surgery Society, said Mohammad was brought to SKMC at 4am, and an x-ray revealed a group of four balls in the abdomen.

“The appeared to be together, but based on my previous experience, I knew the balls could be anywhere in the abdomen. What is worse, because they are magnetic, they are attracted to one another, and this creates perforations in organs and bowels,” the doctor explained.

The child was rushed into surgery. Dr Al Junaibi and his team explored Mohammad’s abdomen through three keyholes, and found a total of seven magnetic balls. There were also perforations in Mohammad’s stomach, his small intestine and in his large intestine, and these were repaired with stitches.

Mohammad was then hospitalised for three days without any oral intake. On the fourth day, he was allowed to eat, and appeared to be feeding well. He was discharged the next day.

Watch children closely

Nayef said the entire family was relieved that things hadn’t gotten worse.

“I’ve raised four other children, so I know the risks to toddlers. It was probably a moment of inattention that allowed Mohammad to swallow the magnets. Still, it just highlights how important it is for parents to watch children closely, and not to doubt a mother’s intuition,” she said.

Ingesting foreign bodies

As Gulf News reported in April, a total of 258 cases have been seen at the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City during the last two years in which people had swallowed foreign objects. As the flagship public hospital, the SKMC deals with the vast majority of such medical cases.

While most cases involved coins, there were others in which magnetic balls, button batteries, needles, scarf pins and keys had been ingested. As doctors noted at the time, multiple magnetic objects present the greatest risk of perforations, and usually have to be extracted surgically, whereas batteries can burn the stomach and intestinal walls.

What parents can do

  • Keep small objects out of reach of small children.
  • Avoid putting small foreign objects in your mouth; you could accidentally swallow them or your children could later model the behaviour.
  • Buy age-appropriate toys and read the instructions on toy packages to see if they have small parts that could be swallowed.
  • Rush to a hospital if your child is choking, coughing, wheezing or has difficulty breathing. These could be signs that an object is blocking their airways.
  • Seek medical attention if your child vomits, complains of abdominal pain or develops a fever; these could also be signs of foreign body ingestion.