Doctors examining a toddler at a hospital in California got a sweet surprise on the X-ray: a perfect outline of a heart in the baby’s chest.
A three-year-old girl was taken to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego after having ingested a foreign object, according to a paper published in the Valentine’s Day edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
“She was a very sweet little girl and told her parents right away that she had swallowed a heart-shaped pendant,” said Dr. Shelby Leuin, an associate professor of surgery at the hospital, which is affiliated with the University of California, San Diego.
Although the girl wasn’t in distress, she felt like something was stuck in her throat, which was causing her discomfort and making it difficult to swallow, Leuin said.
So, doctors took an X-ray to see what happened. The result was an “incredibly clear” picture of a heart. The image was so clear because the object was metal, she said.
“My first thought was that kids swallow the darndest things.”
The X-ray confirmed the child’s story: that she had indeed swallowed a pendant and it was stuck in her esophagus.
According to the paper, in some cases, like if a child has button batteries or sharp objects caught in their throat, the object is immediately removed due to the risk of it damaging their esophagus.
A lithium button battery is particularly dangerous, Leuin said, as small children are attracted to the smooth and shiny object, and it can “start to burn through the esophagus after a very short period of time and risks serious injury and even death to the child.”
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When the object is less dangerous, doctors sometimes wait to see whether it will pass on its own. In this case, the heart didn’t move. “Over time, a foreign object in the esophagus can start to erode through the esophageal wall and cause a severe infection,” Leuin said. “In addition, it is difficult for children to swallow liquid and food when an object is stuck there, and so they can get dehydrated and malnourished.”
So, the doctors removed the gold pendant through endoscopy. The little girl was soon sent home and is “thriving,” Leuin said.
She’s seen kids who have swallowed all kinds of things at the hospital, she said.
“Coins, coin-shaped batteries, stickers, legos, and other toys. But this cute heart-shaped pendant was a first.”
The gold pendant went to the pathology department to be logged as “removed from the body,” she said. She’s not sure if the parents ever claimed their lost jewelry.