They go by many names like Buckyballs, Nanodots, Neocubes and Zen Magnets, to name a few. They’re little magnetic beads, most often sold as novelty desk toys, that can be built into any shape. But the magnetic pull is so strong that if more than one is swallowed they can connect together inside the body and pose an extreme danger. Because the balls are so small they pose a real risk to children who could easily swallow them.
Six year old Megan Van Wyk was one of those children.
“She woke up screaming, ‘my tummy is so sore,’ she was really uncomfortable,” says Megan’s mother Kelly.
Megan was rushed to the emergency room where doctors found nineteen magnetic balls in her belly. Within 48 hours of swallowing the magnets, Megan needed life-saving surgery.
Dr. Brian Cameron, Pediatric Surgeon at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, did that surgery.
“We were only able to get five in her stomach which we removed with a scope and then had to do surgery,” he says. “They created four holes in her stomach and the intestine that we had to repair.”
Megan is just one of the rising numbers of cases where hospitalization and surgery is required to remove these powerful magnets. They’re made with the rare earth mineral called neodymium, which is 10 to 20 times stronger than the old fridge magnets.
“It’s like getting shot, like getting buckshot to the abdomen, but without any evidence on the outside,” says Dr. Matt Strickland, who treated four cases in just two months as a resident in pediatric surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children. “What they can do is actually link through loops of bowel, be it stomach to small intestine, small intestine to small intestine, or parts of the colon. And there they stick. And that pressure that they create between the two of them slowly erodes through the wall of the gastrointestinal tract until you have a hole.”
Because they are so small and harmless looking Dr. Strickland says most parents don’t realize how dangerous these magnets can be.
“We really were so blind, we didn’t know these Nano balls could cause such serious damage to her,” says Kelly.
The magnet balls come with a package warning saying the toy is not suitable for children under the age of 14. But not everyone thinks that’s enough to guard against the risk. Authorities in the U.S have taken action by stopping the manufacturing, importing and selling of the product across the United States.
Health Canada announced April 16th – four weeks after 16×9’s investigation aired – they would remove them from the marketplace as well.
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