Federal regulators said for the first time Wednesday that a child died last year and about 7,700 children have visited emergency rooms after swallowing small, high-powered magnets like those found in popular desk toys.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission's staff announced the deaths and ingestions in a proposed final rule it sent to the full commission. It would ban the type of high-powered magnets made popular by Buckyballs, which were recalled in July. The full commission is expected to vote on the rule later this month.
Magnets would be allowed only if they were large enough to not fit through a cylinder used to test choking hazards. Buckyballs founder Craig Zucker, who dissolved the Buckyballs company in December 2012, has a new company called United We Ball, which is believed to have the only magnetic product that would be allowed under the rule.
Zucker declined to comment.
Annaka Chaffin was 19 months old last August when she swallowed seven small magnetic balls from a necklace her brothers brought home from school. Her mother, Amber Chaffin, said in an interview that she doesn't know what brand the product was.
According to the final rule, Annaka was found unresponsive with blood coming from her mouth and nose. She was pronounced dead at the same children's hospital where she had been treated and released the previous day. Doctors said she most likely had a virus.
An autopsy revealed magnets in the small intestine of the child. The cause of death was determined to be "ischemic bowel." The magnets became attached to one another, which perforated her bowel and caused it to become septic, Chaffin says.
"This case illustrates how difficult it is to diagnose the injuries associated with ingested magnets: the symptoms seemed to indicate a common stomach ailment or poisoning," says the CPSC staff report.
Chaffin says she hopes parents will make sure any small magnets are nowhere where small children could reach them, as she says watching your children is not enough. She is still not sure how her daughter got ahold of them.
"My biggest fear when I lost her is that it happened for nothing," says Chaffin. "I hope when they see them now they'll think of my daughter."