The day after Christmas 2015, two-year-old Brianna Florer was happily opening gifts at her grandparents' house in the rural town of Jay, Oklahoma. She had been running a slight fever for a few days, but this hadn't hampered the family's enjoyment of the holidays. No one could have foreseen the seriousness of the situation that was yet to unfold.
Without further warning, the next evening Brianna suddenly began vomiting blood and her skin turned blue. Her parents immediately rushed her to the nearest hospital. Doctors there quickly ascertained the cause of Brianna's distress: she had swallowed a button battery. She was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa where she underwent emergency surgery.
Unfortunately, the damage was too great. "They operated on her for two and a half hours, but they couldn't stop the bleeding," her grandfather Kent Vice reported. “They believed the battery ate through to her carotid artery by way of her esophagus. We had no idea when she swallowed it.” Doctors estimated it had been within the last six days.
The lithium cell battery that Brianna had swallowed can be found in many electronic appliances such as remotes, calculators and electric watches, but more and more often in toys and other electronics for children as well.
According to the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., there were just under 12,000 incidents of children under six swallowing batteries between 2005 and 2014. Fifteen of these were fatal and over a hundred resulted in serious medical problems. Including all ages, there are 3,500 battery-swallowing incidents per year in the United States.
While in most cases, a swallowed battery passes through the digestive system before causing any problems, the danger exists that the battery may become lodged in the esophagus — as in Brianna's case — where the acid can cause tissue burn and other serious injuries.
Batteries should be stored in a safe place out of reach of children and any flat batteries should be disposed of promptly and safely. (Most grocery stores offer convenient battery disposal containers.) Parents should also check toys with batteries to make sure the battery compartments are secure and couldn't be easily opened by a small child.
In the event that someone has swallowed a battery, this is what you should do:
Contact the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333, noting beforehand (if possible) the battery identification number from the package or from a matching battery. Depending on the person's age and the type of battery swallowed, the Hotline's specialists can advise if an x-ray is urgently required.
Don't allow the victim to ingest any food or fluids and don't induce vomiting.
Immediately report any signs of fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, or blood in the stools.
Keep an eye on stools to note if the battery has passed.
Scientists are developing a method for coating batteries in a quantum-coat which would prevent acid from leaking into the stomachs of small children or animals, preventing death by poison.
Brianna Florer would have turned three next week on November 25. While nothing can change her tragic death at such a young age, if through awareness of the risks of battery ingestion other lives can be saved, some positive may be found from this sweet girl's sad story.