YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - A Tega Cay family has a warning they want all parents to hear after their 8-year-old daughter accidentally swallowed two tiny, high-powered magnets on Christmas Eve.
After six x-rays, two procedures under anesthesia and multiple days in the hospital, Lucy Seay is doing well now, but her family wants to prevent this from happening to other children.
“We got lucky that there were only two [magnets], and they were stuck together for the entire time,” said Jennifer Seay, Lucy’s mom. “Other kids are not so lucky.”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been working since at least 2012 to warn families about the possible dangers of ingesting the rare earth magnets.
The CPSC actually banned magnets like the kind Lucy swallowed in 2014, but when a federal judge overruled that ban in 2016 citing “incomplete findings,” they were back on the market.
Since then, data shows the number of magnet ingestions in children has continued to rise. While the magnet industry is talking about standardizing marketing and warning labels, some believe more needs to be done, including the doctor who treated Lucy.
“These magnets are so strong, that they will actually attract and find each other-- and the intestine that is between these magnets-- can be trapped between the magnets,” said Dr. Jason Dranove, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
Dr. Dranove says that can tear the intestine. “That piece of intestine will actually open up which is called a perforation, and then intestinal contents can break out into the abdominal cavity which can cause overwhelming infection,” added Dranove.
That became the fear for the Seay family after 8-year-old Lucy swallowed two of these magnets on Christmas Eve.
“Her sister and her came running down, and they were yelling, ‘Mommy, Lucy swallowed magnets,’” said Jennifer Seay, Lucy’s mom.
Lucy, who often plays with the magnet sets with her 10 and 12-year-old sisters, says she was trying to connect the magnets through her teeth.
“I was just trying to stick one right there…,” Lucy pointed to her bottom front teeth, “and one in the back to make them stick together, and I guess they slipped off and I accidentally swallowed them.”
Mom, Jennifer, says she remembered reading an article years ago about the dangers of ingesting the magnets, but her husband thought it likely wasn’t too big of a deal.
Justin Seay added, he thought, “Hey ya know- let’s see if she’ll pass them. Kids swallow things all the time.”
So they called poison control, who sent them straight to the hospital.
“I feel like we’re getting at least one call a month, as a [medical] group about magnet ingestions, but honestly it could be even more than that,” said Dr. Dranove.
Dranove says their numbers have gone up since the magnet ban was lifted in 2016.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) numbers show magnet ingestions in children has skyrocketed from 266 in 2016, before the ban was lifted, to 1,608 in 2019.
In Lucy’s case, after watching the magnets in her digestive track for days, her doctor concluded she needed a colonoscopy to get them out.
Jennifer showed us there was a warning about ingesting the magnets on the magnet set box that Lucy was playing with. Even so, she believes many parents may still not realize the risk.
“Having older children and being kind of at the point where we don’t have to really worry about a baby putting things in their mouth anymore-- just kind of forgetting that they are still kids,” said Jennifer. “We still have to be constantly reminding them of the right things to do.”
The Seays say parent and family education about the magnets is key, but Dr. Dranove says even more needs to be done.
“Ideally, they would be banned until there could be a very rigorous process of informing people of the danger of these products, but at least for now I think they should be behind the counter,” said Dr. Dranove. “All I know is I don’t want to see any more children have to undergo surgery for a perforated bowel or intestinal injuries due to these magnets.”
If you do a search for the magnet sets online, most purchasing sites have some kind of warning saying the sets or “toys” are for “adults ages 14 and up.” However, voting is underway by ASTM International right now, the group that helps develop voluntary standards for industries, which would streamline the marketing, packaging and warning requirements for the magnet sets, and you can have a say in the process.
A public relations manager for ASTM International writes to WBTV, “We encourage consumers, consumer advocates, and anyone else interested in taking part in our standards development process to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The voting for the new proposed voluntary standards will end on January 13th.
In the meantime, the AAPCC says if you or someone you know may have ingested a dangerous substance, please contact poison control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or go to poisonhelp.org for assistance.