A science-mad Prestwich schoolboy was forced to undergo life-saving surgery after swallowing 54 magnet toys to see if he’d become “magnetic”.
And now his mum is raising awareness of the risks and dangers.
When 12-year-old Rhiley Morrison chomped down the small magnetic balls on two separate occasions, he was simply just curious to see if it would make metal stick to his tummy, and what they would look like when he passed them, but when the metal balls didn’t make an appearance four days later, the worried lad confessed to his mum hat he swallowed two “by accident”.
After she rushed him to hospital, doctors x-rayed the boy and were stunned to discover 54 of the powerful magnet toys in his stomach and bowel.
Fearing the magnets may burn through tissue or vital organs and go on to cause potentially-fatal internal damage, doctors rushed him to surgery where the objects were scooped out during a six-hour operation, and now that he’s recovering at home, his mum – Paige Ward – is sharing the story of Rhiley’s 16-day hospital ordeal.
She is keen to educate parents about the potential dangers of these toys, and urge them to be binned before it happens again.
“I was gobsmacked, just speechless when I heard the number he’d swallowed.” Paige said.
“The doctors guessed around 25-30 from the x-ray, but when he came out of surgery they said they got 54.
“I think what made it harder is that I just didn’t understand how or why he would swallow that many, [but] Rhiley is massively into science [and] he loves experiments, [so] he eventually admitted ‘I tried to stick magnets to me, I wanted to see if this copper would stick to my belly while the magnets were in’.
“It’s just so silly, but he’s a child and that’s what kids do.
“He also thought it would be fun seeing them come out the other end.”
Rhiley – who has autism and ADHD – asked for magnet toys for Christmas and bought the additional £4.99 magnetic balls from a corner shop with money he’d saved up.
It’s believed that Rhiley swallowed the first batch on 1st January, and the second lot on 4th January.
But when none of the magnets passed through his system, he confessed to his mum at 2am on 5th January and she quickly took him to Salford Royal Hospital, but following the x-rays and discovery of just how many of the incredibly-powerful magnets were inside him, doctors sent the pair by ambulance to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Rhiley was then placed on the list for emergency surgery and had a keyhole procedure to remove the magnets.
Due to complications related to ingesting the powerful magnets, Rhiley spent 10 days unable to move without vomiting green liquid caused by his bowel leaking, and he was also unable to eat or go to the toilet and needed to be tube-fed with a catheter inserted.
“It was heartbreaking watching him go through all that, just horrible,” Paige continued.
“I think it’s especially difficult because of COVID meaning he couldn’t have any visitors [but] it was just horrible to see him not able to sit up and being so sick every time he moved because this fluid was sloshing around inside him.
“I’d managed to hold it together all the time, but it wasn’t nice seeing him in that much pain.
“When they tried to put the catheter in, he had pins and needles through his body and told me ‘I feel like my insides are going to explode’. I remember thinking, I can’t believe all this is happening because of magnets.
“When I went into hospital, I thought ‘God, they’re going to think how has she let him do that?’ [but] a trauma nurse came in and told me she deals with kids like Rhiley who’ve eaten magnets all the time, and another doctor said he’d seen a child who’d swallowed two who ended up with part of their bowel removed, so Rhiley was very lucky with 54.”
Rhiley was discharged on 21st January, and was given a week-long course of antibiotics to stave off infection.
“I got rid of all the magnet toys after this,” Paige admitted.
“He is autistic, but he’s quite high functioning and he knows what he’s doing, he knows right from wrong [but] he’s just made a mistake and unfortunately it was one that could have cost him a lot.”
To ensure no other family goes through the same experience, Paige is bravely sharing Rhiley’s story, adding: “I don’t want other kids or parents going through that.
“When he did it, I thought it was just him, he’s just been silly and done it, but the surgeon said they see this all the time.
“Magnets aren’t toys and they shouldn’t be sold as toys.
“My message to other parents is to just put them in the bin, don’t buy them in the first place. I don’t care how nice they look and how many children ask for them because they’re ‘cool’, they’re just not worth it. The surgeon said that if Rhiley hadn’t told me that day that he’d swallowed the magnets, they could’ve clashed and ripped his bowel, and he could have ended up with sepsis.
“Rhiley was lucky, but some kids aren’t and won’t be.
“I’m not sure why he told me, he wasn’t in any pain, I just thank God he did.
“He’s taken all of his magnets out of his room now and he won’t entertain them [because it] was a really traumatic lesson for both of us.”
Katrina Phillips – Chief Executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust – said: “Rhiley was lucky to be treated so quickly and avoid more serious injury [as] we’ve heard of increasing numbers of children swallowing magnets and we know doctors are worried.
“If you look online, you’ll find lots of magnetic toys but the trouble is, there’s no way to tell if they are safe or 10 times stronger than the legal limit [and] many parents assume that, if they can buy something, it must be safe.
“Paige is doing a great service for other families by speaking out about these hidden dangers.”
What are the risks of swallowing magnetic balls?
If a child swallows small magnetic balls, magnets effectively burn holes in their intestines or bowels.
The magnets stick together internally and through organs and tissues, and can cut off blood supply causing tissue to die.
They are much more complex than button batteries to extract.
The child will need emergency surgery, then, depending on the severity of the injuries, they may need numerous operations, bowel resection and time in paediatric intensive care.Child Accident Prevention Trust
You can find more information and advice via the Child Accident Prevention Trust here.
You can also join in Paige’s fight to ban the sale of magnet toys and ball magnets by showing your support and signing her petition on change.org here.