Boy who swallowed magnets recovering

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
The Woodleaf Elementary School fourth-grader who swallowed a set of magnets last week and underwent surgery Monday was in stable condition Wednesday evening.
Andre Bercerra, 9, is recovering at Presbyterian Hospital after an operation to remove the magnets from his intestines.
His mother, Alicia Bercerra, said he was using the magnets as an imitation lip ring and swallowed one at lunch Thursday and one Friday.
She said Andre started having sharp stomach pains Friday evening while they were at the movies.
“We had to cut it short because he was in so much pain,” Bercerra said. “Those little magnets found each other pretty quickly.”
Alicia said her son received the magnets, which are larger than a BB and smaller than an M&M, from another student at school.
She is not sure what brand of magnets her son swallowed but did say they are similar to similar to Buckyballs and Neocubes, desk toys made up of 216 magnets that can form geometric shapes and structures.
The websites for both products warn against allowing children to play with them, mentioning possible damage to the intestines.
Bercerra said she isn’t sure where the magnets are sold, but the child her son received them from bought them at a store in Concord Mills.
“I’m sure his parents were not aware of how dangerous these magnets are,” she said. “Now, hopefully all parents will know about this and get rid of them because they are not nearly as harmless as they appear.”
After taking Andre to Rowan Regional Medical Center, Dr. Bertrand Fote transferred him to Presbyterian Hospital, which employs a pediatric gastroenterologist.
“He did have internal injuries. There were two holes in his intestines from the magnets,” Bercerra said. “The surgeon said it was as if he had been shot with a BB gun through his intestine.”
The holes in Andre’s intestines also caused fluid leaking from his bowels to contaminate his system.
Bercerra said she is thankful she got Andre to the hospital when she did.
“The very first words that the surgeon said to me were, ‘It’s very good you brought him to me,’” she said. “The doctor did not expect to find that much damage because it was not visible on the X-ray.
“If I had waited any longer it could have been fatal.”
Road to recovery
Andre will spend at least five days at the hospital as doctors monitor him to ensure there are no complications.
“Right now they are watching to make sure the contamination does not lead to sepcis or any other kind of infection,” Bercerra said.
He will not be allowed to resume full normal activity for about three weeks.
“He might end up having to be homeschooled the rest of the year,” Bercerra said. “This has knocked him out pretty good.”
Andrew’s classmates wished him a speedy recovery this week, making cards that Woodleaf Principal Sue Herrington dropped off Tuesday.
“They have just been so supportive,” Bercerra said. “They have really stepped up and gone above and beyond.”
A warning to parents
After watching Andre doubled over in pain as the magnets he ingested pulled toward each other, Bercerra said she doesn’t want any other parents to have to do that.
She’s hoping to spread the word about the dangers of letting children play with magnets.
“These are just not toys,” she said. “They are more harmful than they appear, they look so innocent.”
Bercerra said if the magnets had ended up in the hands of her 3-year-old daughter, Abbi Grace, the damage could have been much worse.
“She wouldn’t have been able to tell me that she swallowed them,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known what was wrong.”
Schools spread word
Herrington went around her school Monday collecting the magnets from any students who had them.
She also sent out a ConnectEd voice message to warn parents about how dangerous they can be if ingested.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System is taking similar precautions, public information officer Rita Foil said.
“Assistant Superintendent Dr. Walter Hart sent out a notice to all principals to educate their teachers and students regarding the dangers of swallowing magnets,” she said in an e-mail to the Post.
Foil said Hart also asked teachers to watch out for the magnets in classrooms.
“I followed this notification by sending out a document to all principals from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding the swallowing of small magnets,” she said.
That notice said: “Small magnets, like those found in magnetic building sets and other toys, can kill children if two or more are swallowed.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.