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"Magnet Man" Is Up and Running Again

Four-Year-Old Boy Who Swallowed Powerful Magnets Is Doing Terrific After Surgery at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

Joao Is Up and Running Again

September 2006 — When David and Jane's 4-year-old son developed vomiting and diarrhea one Friday last March, they thought he had a stomach virus and gave him fluids to avoid dehydration. On Saturday, Joao felt better but after eating a hot dog that night, threw up again. The next day his parents took him to the emergency room at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital where an X-ray revealed two glowing squares. Joao later admitted that he had swallowed two small magnets, apparently imitating a character he saw in a cartoon, his father says.

David and Jane were advised to watch Joao closely for three days to see if he passed the magnets but a few days later Joao developed cramps, so David took him back to the emergency room where he underwent scans and was given pain medication. While reviewing the films, Gary Birken, MD, pediatric surgeon on the medical staff at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Memorial Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital West and Memorial Hospital Miramar, discovered the magnets were in different segments of the intestine but attached.

The magnets, Dr. Birken says, were more powerful than typical refrigerator magnets and surgery was the only option. Magnets already attached when swallowed, he says, shouldn't pose this problem. "But two very powerful magnets passing separately through the stomach and intestinal tract, could attract one another through an intestinal wall, creating a perforation that sets the patient up for enormous infection should intestinal contents escape."

Dr. Birken, who had not encountered this problem before, removed the stubborn magnets and performed a bowel resection, removing a segment of Joao's bowel, then sewing the remaining ends together to re-establish normal anatomy. Joao remained hospitalized for a week, initially getting nutrition and antibiotics intravenously before he could begin eating again. "He did very well," Dr. Birken says. David says he's grateful for Dr. Birken's clear explanations and thoroughness, and that Joao, who celebrated his 5th birthday soon afterward, is running and playing again.

"He was like a different kid the day after surgery," David says. The nurses, he says, affectionately called him 'Magnet Man' and let him select movies to watch. "They make you feel cozy," David says of the attentive staff at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. "They're extremely warm. They know when you're emotionally distressed, even if you don't say it, and treat you in a way that makes you feel comfortable."

If you would like a referral to a pediatrician or pediatric specialist, call
Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Physician Referral Service
toll-free at
(866) JDCH-DOC
. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.