A well-intentioned Christmas gift, given to her older sister, ended up being the culprit that took the life of Raylynn, a 14-month old toddler from Michigan.
Raylynn swallowed seven tiny, high-powered magnets and, according to an autopsy report, they magnetized inside her and perforated her bowel. A heart-wrenching death doctors and advocates fear won’t be the last.
“The strength of these is so powerful,” said Dr. James Berman, as he showed magnets coming together quickly in the palm of his hand.
Dr. Berman is not connected to the Michigan case, but showed NBC 5 Responds four magnets that not too long ago threatened the life of another child – this time in the Chicago-area.
“We see probably one patient every other month that we have to monitor in the hospital,” he said. “So that’s around six per year.”
NBC 5 Responds found injuries caused by magnet ingestion skyrocketed across the country in the last 5 years, up more than 530%.
Doctors in South Florida tell NBC 6 Responds they are seeing more of these types of cases.
“They are coming frequently,” said Dr. Ruben Gonzalez-Vallina of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “Especially now through the holiday season.”
Dr. Gonzalez-Vallina said earlier this year, they treated a 10-year-old child who had swallowed several magnets. The child survived, but the outcome could have been very different.
“If these magnets are ingested at different times and are at different parts of the intestine, they’ll attract one another with great force and then can entrap bowel or blood vessels between the magnets,” said Dr. Tamar Levene, a pediatric surgeon at Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Levene said in some cases involving older children who have swallowed magnets, new social media challenges were involved.
“Kids are pretending that these magnets are piercings or things of that sort and end up inadvertently ingesting the magnets,” Dr. Levene said.
For all the close calls doctors see, there is a growing list of victims who don’t make it, including three deaths first reported by NBC 5 Responds after a freedom of information request to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
A two-year-old boy who died in 2018 after swallowing 14 magnetic beads. His symptoms: stomach pains and vomiting for two days prior to his death. In New York, the rare case involving an adult: a 43-year-old man who died in 2020 after swallowing magnetic beads from a building set. The circumstances leading to his death “unknown”. And then there was Raylynn in Michigan.
By the time her devastated family learned that tiny magnets caused her death, they had already thrown away the product’s packaging, making it difficult for investigators to track down any brand name.
Nearly a year later, heading into the holiday buying season, NBC 5 Responds found many such magnet sets for sale online and in stores. Some had extensive warnings, but advocates say a label only goes so far once the balls are out of the box.
“There’s really no way to contain the danger,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger.
She said there is reason to be optimistic about a proposed CPSC rule, which aims to outlaw the strongest of these products.
“It will take these high-powered magnets completely off of the market, rather than just labeling them for older children,” Cowles said.
But that rule is not in place this holiday season, which is why advocates and doctors urge anyone with small children inside the home to keep these small magnets completely out.
“If somebody gives them a gift, say a toy that has magnets in it, especially high-powered magnets, they should get rid of it or go to the store and change it for another toy,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Vallina.
If you think your child may have swallowed a magnet, doctors tell NBC 6 Responds it’s important you take them to the emergency room right away. They said your child might not have symptoms initially and if you wait until they’ve developed symptoms like abdominal pain or vomiting, it could be too late.