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Here's Why Buckyball Magnets Are So Dangerous

Photograph by Twenty20

Toddlers have a funny way of doing things. They won't eat broccoli because it looks like shrubbery, but they'll gladly get down on all fours to lick the side of a dog's water bowl.

Given the opportunity, a curious child will stick just about anything—a random toy, trinket or coin—into their mouth. Most of the time, they end up spitting it out on the floor so you can clean it up later, but every once in a while, they do the unthinkable and swallow.

That's what happened to one Colorado family last month when 2-year-old Ella McBrien ingested a small stack of Buckyballs, a toy that resembles BB-sized magnets, according to Fox 31 Denver. If you're not familiar, Buckyballs are high-powered, magnetic balls that cling together to hold shapes: a modern-day Lego, if you will.

When Ella's father, Kyle McBrien, stepped away to use the bathroom, she grabbed 28 of the magnetic orbs and swallowed them all.

"It was terrifying," Elizabeth McBrien, the girl’s mother, said. "I was losing it; [her father] luckily kept it together."

X-rays taken at the hospital revealed that the magnets had joined forces to form a circle in the girl’s bowel. They were also pinching a piece of the organ and creating a hole. Doctors were forced to use a specialized endoscopy to remove the tiny spheres after the initial procedure failed.

Photograph by FOX

"They were pinching the bowel and causing the early formation of a hole within the bowel by the time we got in there," Dr. Robert Kramer, who was working on the 2-year-old’s case, told Fox 31.

Thankfully, the doctors were able to remove the magnetic orbs without complication, and Ella was back to her old self within a few hours of the second procedure.

Even so, Kyle and Elizabeth McBrien hope that their daughter's horrifying experience will serve as a warning to other parents about the dangers of Buckyballs.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of the magnets back in 2014, after several cases of children swallowing them had been reported. Shortly after, they announced that it would no longer be legal to sell them. However, an appeals court overturned their decision in December 2016, making it legal once again for retailers to sell the deadly spheres. And now that they are back on the market, parents of small children are right back where they started.

"It sounds as benign as humanly possible—magnets, you don’t think anything of it," said McBrien.

So, how does a parent know if their child has swallowed a magnet (or magnets), if they weren't in the room when it happened?

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges doctors to talk to patients about magnet safety, but just in case your child's doctor forgot to share that information with you, read their Magnet 101 course. Keep an eye out for abdominal pain, vomiting and fever. Read it. Learn it. Know it. Hopefully, you'll never have to use it.

X-ray image via Fox News

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