Tallulah Willis, 6, from Perth, Australia is in desperate need of a life-saving operation after she swallowed 23 magnets which she thought were edible.
The medical staff at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, Australia gave her the all clear after x-rays and ultrasound.
But, after three weeks, Tallulah’s scans revealed she had three more clusters of chewed magnet fragments in her lungs and stomach, requiring an emergency operation.
The first time the preschooler swallowed a magnet, she was in the bathtub.
“She was lying down and I heard her cry. I went to the bathroom and there were a couple of magnets in her face,” her mother, Miranda Sledge, told CNN.
When a nurse gave the family a tablet, Sledge noticed one of the magnets on the ground was still intact. A scan of the stomach revealed several more fragments, one of which had pierced Tallulah’s bowel.
Tallulah was referred to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, which is a specialist neonatal intensive care unit for babies under one month old.
Staff removed the magnets with an innovative and delicate procedure called percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), in which the gastric contents are taken directly through the mouth, bypassing the stomach, and implanted in her stomach lining, as explained by Catherine Masten, the department head of paediatric anesthesia at Westmead.
The surgeons told CNN the insertion procedure could only be completed under an ECMO (electrocardiographic monitored artificial heart) machine, which is used to treat cardiac arrest, and requires constant monitoring.
“They’re playthings that you think will never hurt you, and then they hurt you, so you’re always looking over your shoulder,” Sledge said.
The six-year-old was sent home from the hospital after surgery for a six-day rest period. The doctors told Sledge that the fragments were not dangerous, as long as she practiced opening her mouth to swallow them with caution, and kept a close eye on her.
Nearly seven weeks after she swallowed the magnets, Sledge received a phone call telling her to go to the emergency room, where Tallulah had more fragments removed and doctors informed her that she may need an additional surgery.
Tallulah’s medical team say that more than half of children with this type of implantation require additional operation within six months of removal.
“These are very rare, and it just shows how they’re very treatable,” Masten said.
‘It’s not fair’
Sledge was visibly emotional as she described her experience of her daughter’s hospitalization, and her fears over what the future may hold for her little girl.
“They thought it was just a couple of fragments in her stomach, but after re-scans, her chest had swelled up, she had a few more fragments in her lungs, and it was really scary,” Sledge said.
The family’s thoughts are now firmly with Tallulah, who is recovering and recovering after her second operation.
“We’re feeling very blessed and happy that her brothers and sisters and the whole family are supporting her. But it’s not fair that this happened to her because she’s so innocent. She’s not even supposed to play with them,” Sledge said.
The young mother said the family is grateful for the support they’ve received, and hope their story will spread awareness and prevent other young children from having similar experiences.
“Children will be children,” Sledge said. “What we’re hoping for is that they can keep children and teenagers from swallowing these things.”