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Pediatric Surgeon Saves Child Who Swallowed Nine Lithium Batteries

March 4th, 2016

      Marie Albert’s bed-time negotiations with her four-year-old son, Andrew, frequently involve her telling him that he needs to sleep in order to charge his batteries. Little did she know that Andrew took this literally. A week before Christmas, he came across a package of lithium batteries – sometimes called button batteries – and decided that the best way to recharge his own batteries would be to eat them.
       In the morning, Andrew awoke with a stomach ache which quickly progressed to nausea and vomiting. When his concerned mother questioned him, he admitted to swallowing the batteries. Ms. Albert brought Andrew to his pediatrician, Carl Sorrano, MD, who directed her to bring him to Good Samaritan Hospital’s Pediatric Emergency Department. There an X-ray revealed nine button batteries at various locations in his stomach and small intestine.
       “When a child swallows lithium batteries, it is potentially a lot more serious than other foreign bodies such as coins,” explained Vinci Jones, MD, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Good Samaritan. Button batteries can release toxic chemicals into the digestive tract which can damage the esophagus, trachea, bowel, or other structures. 
       Because of the location of the batteries and the fact that they were making Andrew sick, Dr. Jones had to surgically remove them. He was able to access the three that were still in Andrew’s stomach through one incision. He then manipulated the six that were scattered through the boy’s small intestine down into the base of the appendix, which he removed in its entirety through another incision. This approach prevented the need for multiple incisions to access each of those batteries.
       By Christmas Eve, Andrew was feeling well enough to leave Good Samaritan. His grateful family waited until they knew he was coming home to set up their Christmas tree, knowing that Andrew’s return was the best present they could hope for.
       Good Samaritan is uniquely prepared to deal with emergencies like Andrew’s. It offers the area’s most comprehensive array of children’s health care services, including a Pediatric Emergency Department, Pediatric Inpatient Unit, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and free-standing Center for Pediatric Specialty Care. Its expert staff includes pediatric surgeons like Dr. Jones, as well as pediatric anesthesiologists, like Bimal Massand, MD, who helped take care of Andrew during his surgery.
       “Everyone at Good Samaritan, from Dr. Jones and Dr. Massand, to the nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit, were very caring,” said Ms. Albert. “They were positive and supportive which made me feel confident and made Andrew very happy.”
       Lithium batteries are used to power toys, watches, calculators and many other common household electronics. In 2010, 3,400 children in the United States swallowed button batteries. There are reports of more than 80 children having suffered permanent damage, and 15 children have died following battery ingestion.
       “Many parents may not realize the danger of these small batteries being ingested,” said Dr. Jones. “The chemical reaction that occurs can lead to a perforation of the intestinal tract which can be fatal if not diagnosed.”
      Andrew was one of the fortunate ones. He has fully recovered and is expected to have no complications. And he has learned that for little boys, charging their batteries requires nothing more than a good night’s sleep.