In May 2016, George Asan from Hampshire lost his 2-year-old daughter Francesca when she swallowed a button battery. It got lodged in her throat and burned through, and she died from internal bleeding.
In Jan 2018, Dutch pediatric doctor Lissy de Ridder revealed on Twitter that she’d performed 3 surgeries to remove button batteries from children’s throats – in the space of just one week.
So, we think it’s important to show this striking picture, above. It demonstrates how a button battery can dissolve flesh. It’s deliberately shocking in an attempt to warn parents to keep these little round shiny silver batteries away from children.
In case you were worrying, the photo shows what a battery can do to a piece of ham, not human flesh. But it’s the same effect.
When a battery button is swallowed, it can get coated in the mucous in the oesophagus. This creates an electrical circuit and the battery starts to function. The battery then releases a corrosive substance, which is a bit like caustic soda – and the damage is done.
The dangers of button batteries have been talked about in the public domain for quite a few years now.
But Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) is now reporting a “big increase” in cases of children swallowing them. GOSH sees around one case a month currently, when a decade ago cases were very rare. The BBC video below is well worth watching so you can be fully aware of the damage these little batteries can do.
In the short film, BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh demonstrates with a piece of ham what can happen to your child’s oesophagus after swallowing one of the batteries or if it gets stuck in their windpipe.
One child’s story
The BBC also shares stories of children this has happened to, such as 3-year-old Valeria from Northern Ireland.
Valeria’s ingested battery wasn’t spotted for 5 days, until she’d had an X-ray. But by that time, so much damage had been done that she has now spent 9 months having treatment at GOSH. She still has to visit every few weeks and has had to have part of her oesophagus removed.
Her mum Jelena explained: “Because she now can’t eat or drink properly, the doctors have made a hole in her neck and attached a bag so that all her saliva and anything she drinks goes straight in to it.
“Without this, water would go in to her lungs, which would be very dangerous. She also has a special button on her tummy that liquid food goes through.
“In many ways Valeria is now a normal 3-year-old who likes Play-Doh and playing doctors, but she still needs a lot more operations to help her recover.”
The expert’s view
Speaking to the BBC, Kate Cross, consultant neonatal and paediatric surgeon said: “If the battery gets enveloped in the mucosa of the oesophagus it can erode through the wall to the windpipe.
“If the battery is facing a different way it can burn into the aorta – a major blood vessel – and there have been cases in Britain where the child has bled to death.”
Kate’s unequivocal on how parents should store batteries, warning starkly: “Button batteries should be treated like poison and kept out of the reach of children.”
So if you do get a few minutes today – it might be worth doing a quick sweep through the house just to make sure there are none lying about and, if there are, to pop them somewhere super-safe.