Toddler in agony for weeks after magnet meal

Buckyballs in the shape of a cube. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Buckyballs in the shape of a cube. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
A toddler swallowed 20 small but super-strong toy magnets, then spent seven weeks in pain as they gripped each other and eventually punctured his bowel.

New Zealand authorities had already been moving towards banning adult desk toy Buckyballs, following similar incidents and bans in the United States and Australia.

Seth Vagana (3) swallowed the Buckyballs, thinking they were sweets, but it took seven weeks of cramps and vomiting before anyone could figure out what was wrong with him.

Rather than being digested, the magnets grip together, pinching soft tissue.

His mother, Lila, said her son started feeling ill during a trip to Australia early last month.

''We thought it was because he'd been swimming and he'd swallowed a lot of water and the pool was quite dirty. We thought he'd caught a virus,'' Mrs Vagana said.

She took Seth to an emergency centre, where he was given antibiotics and hydrolyte ice blocks.

But not long after they returned home to Avondale in Auckland, Seth got sick again. Their doctor also thought it was a virus.

'''He had a sore tummy and was vomiting and the stomach cramps were making him walk hunched over, he was in so much pain,'' Mrs Vagana said.

Twice more Mrs Vagana took Seth to her GP and Starship, where he had a chest X-ray and blood and urine samples taken. None gave any insight into what was wrong with him.

''It was quite scary. Nobody could work out what was going on ... he kept saying he had this pain right behind his belly button,'' Mrs Vagana said.

''We could see him deteriorating in front of our eyes.''

Last Sunday, Seth walked over to his mother with a small silver ball in his mouth and Mrs Vagana ''just clicked''.

Seth returned to Starship, and this time an X-ray was taken of his stomach.

''They called me over and said, 'You'd better look at this' and I just knew I was right. You could see a perfect bracelet of these magnets in his bowel.''

Seth had emergency surgery to remove the Buckyballs, which had pierced his bowel trying to get to each other.

Mrs Vagana said she wanted to warn other parents about the dangers of Buckyballs and believes they should be banned.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is now writing advice for Consumer Affairs Minister Simon Bridges.

A spokeswoman for Mr Bridges said his intention was to issue an unsafe notice for the product, to take immediate effect.

More than 200 children around the world have swallowed the spheres and many have required surgery after ingesting more than one.

They were banned in the United States and Australia this year.

Buckyballs are manufactured by American company Maxfield and Oberton and are sold in New Zealand through websites.

Last Monday, the company announced it would stop making the metallic beads.

- Amelia Wade



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