5-Year-Old Seriously Injured After Swallowing Buckyballs

Mom Warns Parents: Powerful Magnets Not For Children

They're shiny, tiny and in demand.

Buckyballs are powerful little magnets you can form into any shape.

But a Colorado mom learned the hard way the powerful magnets can also be life-threatening.

CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta found out how such a dangerous toy could so easily end up in the hands of a child.

"It could have been dire. Really dire," said Stephanie Thompson.

In September, her 5-year-old son, Finn, had emergency surgery. The scar on his stomach is healing, but for his mom, the emotional wound is still fresh.

"I came to get you at school. How come?" Thompson asked her son, Finn.

"Because my belly was hurting a lot," Finn answered.

Thompson said she popped into a Boulder toy and novelty store and instantly saw the display for Buckyballs.

"It's pretty front and center in the store. There's a video and a demo. I was watching the video for a while and thought I'd love to buy them and they said, 'OK, they are behind the counter.' I told them they are for my son who is 5 and they said, 'He'll love them,'" Thompson recalled during a recent interview with Marchetta.

Thompson said she never saw the warnings that say, "Keep away from all children."

"So, you didn't have any inkling that these could be dangerous at the time?" Marchetta asked.

"Oh my gosh! There was not one thought in my head that it would be dangerous," Thompson said.

Finn loved the Buckyballs he received for his birthday, but Thompson had no idea he had swallowed four of them.

"It never occurred to me that he swallowed something or that these could be something that he swallowed or that it would be something that was dangerous that he swallowed," said Thompson.

Finn remembers thinking his Buckyballs were candy.

"I had metal candy before," Finn said to his mom.

"On a cookie?" asked Thompson.

"Yeah," said Finn.

Finn thought he was eating tiny silver candies called "dragees." The miniature ball-shaped candies are often used to decorate cakes and cookies. They are edible and even to an adult, look nearly identical to the powerful Buckyball magnets.

"He wouldn't drink or eat and I knew something was really wrong," said Thompson.

After two days of wrenching stomach aches, an x-ray confirmed what Thompson never could have imagined.

"Technicians asked me if I knew what this was and I knew right away. I could see the tiny balls very clearly on the x-ray," said Thompson.

"Yes, these tend to be more dangerous because they're quite a bit stronger than other magnets," said Children's Hospital Director of Endoscopy, Dr Robert Kramer.

"With that strong attraction they really have a strong tendency to stick together, pinching areas of the bowel in between two of the magnets," said Kramer.

Kramer said avoiding surgery is the first priority.

In Finn's case, doctors had hoped the magnets would pass naturally because they appeared on the x-ray to be lined up in his intestines.

But days later, Finn was still in excruciating pain.

"It's awful to see your child suffer and not be able to do anything about it," said Thompson.

"What were those magnets doing to your son's intestines?" Marchetta asked.

"They were basically squeezing it like a rag which is why he was in so much pain," said Thompson.

The CALL7 Investigators went undercover to see if stores were warning parents and found that many are. The packaging also has several warnings that read "Keep away from all children."

"I honestly did not see this warning sign," said Thompson.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been warning parents about magnets in toys for more than five years.

In 2006, a toddler died after ingesting magnetic pieces from a toy building set.

And in recent years dozens of children have required abdominal surgery after swallowing high powered magnets.

Even after Finn's emergency surgery, his mom told Marchetta that one of his little friends got Buckballs as a birthday gift.

"What was your reaction?" asked Marchetta.

"I just started shaking and I went right up to his parents and said, 'I don't know if you know the story and I told them. They were shocked," said Thompson.

Since returning home from the hospital, Finn and his mom have posted an online video warning to other families. In it, Finn's message is clear.

"I don't want to play with them anymore," said Finn.

Now it's other kids his mom worries about.

"I don't think these should be sold in a toy store and I think that it should be on everyone's mind that these are extremely dangerous," said Thompson.

Buckyballs were recalled in 2010 because they were labeled for "ages 13+" a violation of mandatory toy standards.

Just a few months ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a campaign to warn parents and children that magnets make a deadly mix after an increase in reports of toddlers and teens swallowing them.

You can read the entire CPSC report on CPSC.gov.

We checked and most of the national toy retailers have stopped selling Buckyballs, but smaller toy and specialty stores still carry them.

Management at the Boulder specialty store where Thompson purchased Buckyballs told a CALL7 producer that the floor display was recently moved behind the counter, signs on the packaging state the magnets are "Not for children" and that the staff shares the CPSC warning with customers.

During an undercover visit, a CALL7 producer confirmed these changes.

When asked why the store still sells Buckyballs, they said that even though they sell toys, not everything in the store is for kids.

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