Batteries: Unexpected killers

Simply put, we owe our son John Jr’s life to the brave, passionate and dedicated doctors and nurses at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Please read my story in the hopes it will help prevent other families from going through such a stressful experience.

At just 11 months old, my son was admitted to the Children’s after swallowing a lithium battery from a television remote. At the time, I was not aware of the dangers of lithium batteries. Otherwise, we would have kept the remote safely away from him. These batteries are in so many everyday objects - remotes, watches, hearing aids, car clickers…

John Jr began coughing and soon after, throwing up. I found the remote piece with the missing battery. I googled “child swallowing button battery” and then rushed him to the Children’s Emergency Room. He was X-rayed and then rushed into surgery to remove the battery. When the doctors emerged, they were very concerned about the amount of damage the battery had already caused. His esophagus was black where the battery had gotten lodged. They had removed the battery and cleaned out the area as best they could. They said that if we had waited to bring him in, he would have surely died. But even so, they weren’t sure if he would survive the night.

He was placed in intensive care and watched very closely. They were worried that the acid would continue to burn him and cause a perforation in his esophagus, allowing the acid to reach his major organs. This possibility could be fatal. This was the scariest night of our lives.

We are so lucky and grateful that he improved. Our son was taken off ventilation and awoken from the anesthetic. We were finally able to hold him in our arms. We were then moved to the regular wards of the hospital and monitored by a team composed of Gastroenterology, General Surgery, Pediatrics, and Cardiac Surgery. We weren’t out of the woods just yet.

John spent for 4 weeks at the hospital during which time he had a CAT scan, 2 MRIs and numerous other tests. Doctors were concerned that the damage from the battery could create a communication between the aorta and the esophagus which would cause him to bleed out and die at any time. This was a very difficult time for our family, but we are extremely grateful to the Child Life team who showed us compassion and encouragement when we were at our lowest points.

Since being discharged from the hospital, John had 2 follow-up procedures that involved general anesthesia to perform an endoscopy and dilatation. The dilatation was necessary to widen the area of the esophagus that had thickened because of scarring.

Today, our boy has recovered completely and is able to eat normally. I am happy to say he has a very healthy appetite. Cheese and ice cream are his favourites!

This was a life-changing event when we realized how important having the Children’s is to all of us. Thank you.

Alison - mother of John Jr, now aged 2 yrs old