Unexpected Killer: The deadly danger of button batteries

Brianna Florer,2, died after swallowing a "button" battery. (Source: Florer family)
Brianna Florer,2, died after swallowing a "button" battery. (Source: Florer family)
Lithium "button" batteries burning through lunch meat. (Source: Dayton Children's Hospital)
Lithium "button" batteries burning through lunch meat. (Source: Dayton Children's Hospital)

(WTOL) - Batteries make the things we love to use, work. Who can live without their remote controls, watches or electronics? But as we discovered, there's a certain type of battery that could be in your home right now, threatening your kids.

A tragic example is 2-year-old Brianna Florer. She had a smile that could warm the coldest of hearts. Her grandfather says the Oklahoma family had just celebrated the best Christmas together, but two days later, Brianna was throwing up blood and was rushed to the hospital.

She had unknowingly swallowed a nickel-sized "button" battery and it lodged in her esophagus. Doctors couldn't stop the bleeding and couldn't save Brianna.

"Never in my mind would have imagined something like this could happen from one of those batteries or they wouldn't have been there, I assure you,"
said Kent Vice, Brianna's grandfather.

The battery had burned a hole through her esophagus and then into a major artery. She likely swallowed the battery a couple of days before, but at first, there was no sign that anything was wrong.

"You can't even imagine the tragedy of your kid being perfectly normal one day and basically died the next," said Dr. Kris Brickman, the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at the University of Toledo Medical Center.

He says the plastic seal around the battery did not hold together in the days after little Brianna swallowed it.

"You have all these acid enzymes in the esophagus and it just wears that away. Then these metal oxides leak out and cause this catastrophic chemical burn," he said.

There are shocking demonstrations on what could happen on YouTube. In one of them, the safety director from UL pours acid on a piece of bologna to simulate saliva in the esophagus. The saliva energizes the battery and you can see it bubbling. In less than 15 minutes, the bologna turns black because of actual burning.

Dayton Children's Hospital also placed the batteries on lunch meat. Over two hours, you can watch it burn through the meat, leaving it blackened.

Dr. Brickman said if this was a real situation, it would be too late.

"That patient would almost have to be in the operating room ready to be operated on, to be able to salvage them. And that obviously is not going to happen," he said.

Dr. Brickman said smaller button batteries are also dangerous. It's something Brittany Koprowski of Toledo found out last March.

"We were sitting down to eat and he said, 'Mom, I ate a battery.' So then about a half hour later was by the time we were at the hospital," said Koprowski.

Her 3-year-old son Logan, now four, had unscrewed a laser pointer and pulled out a button battery. He swallowed it. Poison Control told her to get right to the hospital and they rushed to Mercy St. Anne Hospital. An x-ray confirmed it was still in Logan's body.

"I thought he was going to have to have surgery for eating a battery," Koprowski said. "Yeah it was really scary. I started crying."

Fortunately for Logan, the battery then passed into his intestines and worked its way out naturally.

The group Safe Kids says kids love to take electronic devices apart, exposing their dangerous button batteries. Safe Kids says every year in the U.S. more than 2,800 kids are treated in emergency rooms after swallowing button batteries. That's one child every three hours. And the number of serious injuries or deaths from button batteries has increased by nine times in the last decade.

At Safe Kids Greater Toledo at ProMedica Toledo Children's Hospital, they show the dangers. Injury Prevention Specialist Kellie O'Riordan showed WTOL some greeting cards.

"So these are the cards that play music and they open up. And you can see that in here, they want to know what that source is coming from. They want to know where the music is coming from. So when you open this up, that's where the button batteries are," said O'Riordan.

She wants parents to keep these batteries away from their kids, especially those under 4 years old. She says they can also be found in some toys, watches, calculators, hearing aids, and flashlights.

"They see parents and caregivers tinkering with different things and they want to mimic that. So that's what they're going to go after. And they're very, very crafty. They are very clever and they can get into a lot of different things," she said.

After what happened to little Brianna Florer, Brittany Koprowski knows it could have turned out differently for Logan.

"We just got lucky with him, that he told us. And it's sad because a lot of parents don't know how dangerous it really is," said Koprowski.

If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, take them to the hospital immediately.

You can also check out more information on the dangers here:

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