Althea Faye Barbacina with her mother and the doctors who saved her at the Medeor Hospital in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Quick thinking and timely intervention by doctors at a Dubai hospital have saved the life of a six-year-old girl who accidentally swallowed 11 high-powered magnetic beads and suffered severe intestinal perforations that were life-threatening. The child had swallowed the beads accidentally while playing, approximately a week ago. Surgeons conducted an hour-long laparotomy to repair the perforations and extract the beads.

Vomiting and severe abdominal pain

Althea Faye Barbacina, a Filipino expatriate, was brought to the Emergency Room (ER) of the Medeor Hospital, Dubai, on March 8, when she had a bout of severe vomiting accompanied by excruciating abdominal pain. In no time, the little girl had lost a lot of water and looked pale and dehydrated. Familiar with the phenomenon of little children swallowing foreign bodies and suspecting severe intestinal infection, Dr Jamuna Raghuraman, specialist paediatrician, referred the child for an ultrasound to confirm the assumption.

Flashy substances in the intestine

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

The Xray
The scan report showing the 11 magnetic beads Image Credit: Supplied

The CT scan only confirmed the findings of the ultrasound. Dr Raghuraman continued, “We found the presence of a metallic substance in the form of a string of beads in the CT scan. However, the child apparently scared, did not confirm swallowing anything. But a few minutes later confessed the truth to her mother,”

Magnets stick together

Usually high-powered magnetic beads found in toys are shiny and colourful and attractive to children. When swallowed, they tend to stick to one another because of the magnetic pull through the walls of the abdomen or intestine, causing serious injuries, including holes, intestinal blockages, blood poisoning and fatalities. “Some countries have banned toys with such beads,” explained Dr Raghuraman.

Saved just in time

Without wasting much time, Dr Pinkesh Laxmikant Thakkar, specialist general and laparoscopic surgeon, wheeled the child to the operation theatre for surgery. “Swallowing a foreign body is a common phenomenon among children, While 80 per cent of these FBs are thrown out as waste, in 20 per cent of cases, these have to be removed. Out of these, 10 per cent may require an emergency surgery as in the case of Althea,” he explained.

In an hour-long surgery, the doctor removed 11 magnetic beads from her stomach.

The chlld was fortunate the surgery was carried out just in time. Dr Thakkar added, “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 doing very well post-surgery. She was in observation for five days and now seems health and fit,” concluded Dr Thakkar.

Thankful parents

Elmer Barbacina, Althea’s father, thanked the doctors for saving the life of his child. “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 Raghuraman and Dr Thakkar for their care and support,” he said.

How parents can help?

Dr Raghuraman said although children were naturally curious, it was the responsibility of parents to keep them safe and make sure that any hazardous items such as coins, batteries, magnets, safety pins are not kept in close proximity to the child.

“When you suspect they have swallowed something, bring your child for an immediate consultation, and learn how to manage them and what to observe for,” said Dr Raghuraman.

Tips for parents:

• Completely avoid getting toys with metallic or sharp parts and those with small parts that are smaller than the size of one fist of an infant and can find its way into the mouth of the baby.

• Make sure the child’s room is free of any unwanted sharp pieces or toys or small parts of a puzzle that could fall to the ground.

• Sterilise all toys, keep track of them, reject any item with loose parts. Even in case of a stuffed toy, discard it if a button or an ear or eye is loose.

• Sit with your child when he or she plays and keep an eye on what the baby is playing with.

• Check all toys before you put them away once the baby concludes playing with them. In case you see anything missing, be extra vigilant to check if your baby is choking or gagging on it.