After complaints of severe stomach pains, young Brady Westphal’s parents took him to see a doctor, who diagnosed him with stomach flu. They were likely still feeling uncertain and fearful about their son’s condition – and with good reason, because as they would soon find out, the stomach flu wasn’t the real reason for his symptoms. In fact, it was something far deadlier.
Ten-year-old Brady lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with his parents, Peggy and Shane Westphal. Like any normal kid, he loves playing video games such as Minecraft on his Xbox. And just like most kids, Brady sometimes feels ill.
However, when the boy started to complain about stomach pains, it seemed more serious than usual – so his parents took him to the doctor. At this point, nobody knew what was wrong with Brady beyond his reported symptoms.
Moreover, those symptoms didn’t, at first, suggest anything particularly harmful. Indeed, Brady’s doctor diagnosed the young boy with a stomach flu. Soon enough, though, it became clear that this was something more than gastroenteritis.
Four days after this diagnosis, Brady’s condition still hadn’t improved. Any parent would, naturally, be panicking at this point. Accordingly, his mom rushed him to the Children’s Hospital at the OU Medical Center.
It was there that Brady underwent an X-ray on his stomach, after pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. John Grunow decided a closer look was necessary. And he wasn’t wrong: the scans showed something unbelievable sitting in the boy’s stomach.
At first, Brady was in denial about what had happened. “I looked at Brady and I’m like, ‘Brady, what’s in your belly? There’s something in there,’” his mom Peggy told OU Medicine. “And he was like, ‘No, there’s nothing in there.’ So we showed him on the X-ray, and he kind of got scared.”
Brady then quickly confessed to the truth of the situation. As it turned out, the youngster had actually swallowed a total of eight magnets, which – frighteningly – had joined together inside his body.
The magnets were apparently souvenirs from a family vacation. Brady had swallowed a handful of them – and they’d subsequently caused the severe stomach pains that he had complained of a few days before.
Once he’d swallowed them, the magnets ripped through Brady’s insides – including his stomach and intestines – in a bid to connect. Indeed, the seemingly harmless magnets had left a trail of destruction.
Dr. Grunow explained what had happened to AOL. “These magnets, especially if swallowed at different times, the magnets don’t move all the way through the intestinal tract,” he said. “And then they pinch together one to another, and the tissue in between gets pinched, and the blood supply gets lost. The tissue ultimately dies.”
Brady’s condition, then, was clearly far more serious than first thought. To escape death, he would need to undergo urgent surgery. Otherwise, the magnets pulling together inside his body could prove fatal.
The surgery lasted for seven excruciating hours, during which his parents were understandably fraught with worry. Indeed, his mom admitted that it was one of the worst moments of her life.
“We heard back and forth from the nurses that were in the [operating room] with them,” Peggy would go on to tell OU Medicine. “But it was still probably the longest seven hours of my life.”
Miraculously, however, the surgery went as planned – and, after 12 long days in hospital, Brady was released. Back at home, then, he was able to begin to recover from his terrible ordeal.
Yet despite Brady’s recovery, the experience had taken a toll on his parents – as it would for any loving mother and father. Speaking at a press conference, dad Shane said, “I took a moment for myself, walked out, and that’s when I just broke down and cried.”
And while Brady’s case didn’t prove deadly, he was supremely lucky to have survived. Indeed, it could have been so much worse. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, out of 33 reported cases of kids swallowing magnets and then having to have surgery, one child has indeed actually died.
In fact, the number of youngsters ingesting small magnets seems to be growing at an alarming rate. Brady’s was the second case to necessitate treatment at the OU Medical Center in just a few weeks, while surgeons across the United States have witnessed cases with increased regularity.
It’s no wonder these kids don’t think twice about swallowing the magnets, however. As Dr. Grunow has pointed out, they seem harmless. “They look so innocent,” he said at a press conference. “You wouldn’t intuitively think that there’s something wrong if you just accidentally swallowed one of those things. But the reality is they can be deadly.”
Indeed, with the magnet-swallowing craze nevertheless spreading rapidly across the U.S., it’s important that awareness is raised of the dangers that the seemingly innocuous objects can pose if ingested – as Brady’s case proves. And it’s also important not to underestimate the symptoms, which may easily be mistaken for the flu, as happened with Brady.
Fever, abdominal pain and vomiting can all stem from damage caused by swallowing magnets, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Brady’s parents will no doubt wish they’d had that information to hand sooner – and can only have been relieved that their son was eventually set on the path to recovery.