Safety Alert

Girl Recovering After Swallowing Small Magnetic Balls

The girl's parents are hoping to spread the word about the dangers of the toys

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Sets of small magnetic balls may look colorful and fun, but they can be dangerous, or even deadly in some cases, and one Park Ridge family recently learned just how real the danger can be. 

Mia Lignelli, a 2-year-old girl from Park Ridge, recently had to undergo emergency surgery last month because she had swallowed five small, magnetic balls, part of a set belonging to her two older brothers. 

The five balls showed up when Mia went in for an MRI for an unrelated medical condition. Dr. Jim Berman, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, treated Mia, and is warning parents about the dangers of these magnets.

 “It’s possible for them to be on either side of the intestinal tissue and the magnets are so powerful that they press and produce a hole there,” Dr. Berman said.

 That’s what happened to Mia. 

“They had to remove her appendix, remove the magnets and then repair all the holes that were there,” Lignelli said, describing the ordeal that landed them in the hospital for six days. 

 Mia is one of four patients treated at Advocate Children’s Hospital in the past few months, and Dr. Berman says they see a handful of these cases every year. 

“We had a little girl who wanted to pretend she had a tongue piercing so she put one on either side and accidentally swallowed them,” said Dr. Berman.

 The sets have become popular in the past decade, often described as an adult desk toy. Some have printed warnings on the packaging, cautioning that the ball sets are for older children and adults, but Dr. Berman worries those warnings may not be enough. 

“In the box or on an adult’s desk ,they are just sitting there and they are not inherently unsafe, but we have to realize these are going to get in the hands of little children and they are going to cause harm just like what happened to Mia,” Dr. Berman said. 

That’s why he has a message as powerful as the magnets. “It’s a simple message. Just don’t buy them,” Dr. Berman said.

 The surgery scare was a wakeup call for Mia’s parents, who are now determined to warn others. 

“We want other parents to know and be aware of those risks and if you have kids in their house, we highly recommend removing them,” Lignelli said. “We are just so blessed because it just could have been much worse of a situation than it was.”

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