Button battery stuck in baby's throat for four months: 'Lucky to be alive'

Facebook/Bristol Royal Hospital for Children
Facebook/Bristol Royal Hospital for Children 

A little girl is lucky to be alive after a watch battery she swallowed was not discovered until four months later.

Sofia-Grace Hill had been like most bubs her age - a happy eater, curious and energetic. However in January last year, the then 11-month-old began having difficulties eating and drinking.

Concerned, her dad Calham took her to GPs and to hospital and despite many return trips demanding answers as his little girl deteriorated, was told it was likely 'tonsilitis or a virus'.

Convinced it was something more, an X-ray in May finally revealed the culprit - a watch battery was lodged in her oesophagus. 

Having been left in there so long, it had begun to corrode and caused her serious damage. 

Sofia-Grace underwent an intensive operation to remove the battery, before having to undergo a subsequent operation to repair some of the damage. She also had to have a nasogastric tube inserted to help with her feeding.

As dad Calham told the BBC, it has been a harrowing experience for the family, from Swindon.

"I was gutted when I saw it and angry at myself. I blamed myself, but now I realise there was nothing we could have done to know," she said.

While he knows she is lucky to be alive, the recovery - including having to undergo general anaesthetic every fortnight to have her oesophagus stretched, has been brutal.

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"The damage has left a pocket in her oesophagus which needs to close but Sofia is improving week by week with regular dilations which is improving her oesophagus," he told the BBC.

"But I know the chance of survival in the first weeks after this happens is very low so we are moving in the right direction."

Now almost two-years-old, the family still aren't sure how she came to find the battery, but have a warning for other parents. 

"Just get rid of them or lock them away and don't give your child car keys to play with. Always trust your instincts as a parent," Calhalm said. 

The Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, where she was cared for, also issued a warning on button batteries and small magnets following the incident. 

"A child may not show symptoms if a battery or magnet is swallowed or ingested but it can have severe consequences if not treated or attended to by medical teams quickly," a lead paediatric major trauma practitioner warned. 

"The newer neodymium magnets are much stronger than normal magnets and are found in many household objects and toys. When more than one magnet or a magnet and another metal object is swallowed, it can cause significant damage to the bowel."

"The more magnets swallowed, the greater the risk. A lithium battery could get stuck in the oesophagus and can cause a significant burn to the tissues within two hours."

While it will be a long recovery for the little girl, Calham said she is continuing to improve.

"Sofia is now on a purée diet and doing very well. She is improving week by week with regular dilations which is stretching and improving her oesophagus," he told the hospital

Other safety tips from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, who recently launched their 'Tiny batteries, Big danger' campaign to highlight the dangers of batteries, include: 

  • If you think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for 24/7 fast, expert advice. You will be directed to an appropriate medical facility that can manage the injury. Prompt action is critical. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
  • Symptoms may include gagging or choking, drooling, chest pain (grunting), coughing or noisy breathing, food refusal, black or red bowel motions, nose bleeds, spitting blood or blood-stained saliva, unexplained vomiting, fever, abdominal pain or general discomfort.
  • Children are often unable to effectively communicate that they have swallowed or inserted a button battery and may have no symptoms. If you suspect a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, you should ask for an x-ray from a hospital emergency department to make sure.
  • Keep new and used button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times – even old or spent button batteries can retain enough charge to cause life-threatening injuries.
  • If buying a toy, household device or novelty item, look for products that do not use button batteries at all, such as products powered by other types of batteries or rechargeable products that do not need button batteries to be replaced.
  • Examine products and make sure the compartment that houses the button battery is child-resistant, such as being secured with a screw. Check the product does not release the battery and it is difficult for a child to access. If the battery compartment does not close securely, stop using the product and keep it away from children.
  • Dispose of used button batteries immediately. As soon as you have finished using a button battery, put sticky tape around both sides of the battery and dispose of immediately in an outside bin, out of reach of children, or recycle safely.
  • Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.