The danger of tiny batteries is bigger than ever

The danger of tiny batteries is bigger than ever
X-Ray difference: Button battery on left; Coin on right
X-Ray difference: Button battery on left; Coin on right
Button Battery X-Ray
Button Battery X-Ray
GRAPHIC: Button battery injury in esophagus
GRAPHIC: Button battery injury in esophagus

(WTOL) - New information continues to come in from our investigation of button batteries and the risk your children could be in. And the threat is nowhere near over.

Julie Ward of Archbold held her three-year-old son Zeke as she remembered how she told us last year that he swallowed a nickel-sized button battery, which was stuck in his esophagus for 16 and a half hours.

By the time doctors removed it, the oxides in the battery had burned his esophagus.

"We're really lucky that it wasn't more serious than it was," Ward said.

Julie is convinced Zeke's life was saved not just by the doctors, but because the battery was used.

It did not have a full charge and the damage was limited. But that's not the case for many other children.

"And we're still seeing a lot of injuries today, and it's still a problem," said Dr. Kris Jatana of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.

Dr. Jatana is on a national button battery task force - the only one of its kind. He said the danger is just as severe as ever, because there are so many more electronics in our homes.

According to him, there are about 3,000 ingestions of button batteries each year in the U.S., and Nationwide Children's saw three cases within one month.

"It's concerning because each one of those batteries can potentially cause a life changing consequence for a child, otherwise healthy child, and unfortunately can cause death," he said.

Dr. Jatana showed us an image of a pig cadaver after a button battery was placed into the esophagus. It burned the tissue, turning it black.

"The tissue creates a current, connects to negative and the positive pull and a highly alkaline burn takes place," he said.

It is Dr. Jatana's mission to get button batteries removed as soon as possible., and he wants all doctors to see the difference between a coin and a button battery.

In an x-ray, a button battery has a ring around it. That small detail is can make a huge difference since a battery, unlike a coin, can cause severe damage within two hours.

"The clock is ticking. From the moment that the battery is lodged in the body," he said.

The button battery task force, partially led by Dr. Jatana, has worked hard to reduce the number of these injuries. They have successfully pushed major battery makers to let consumers know what they're buying.

There are now warning labels on button batteries made by Energizer and Duracell. You have to remove the label to use the battery, and many are harder to get open.

"Historically you would be able to pop out a battery … like a piece of bubble gum, and it would just pop out," said Dr. Jatana. "You can try as hard as you can, but you're not going to be able to. You're not going to be able to open this without a pair of scissors."

Zeke Ward has made a complete recovery and Julie appreciates what Dr. Jatana and the button battery task force have done.

She showed us a recent family picture, where Zeke is sitting on his mother's lap. It's a heartwarming snapshot that was in doubt just two years ago because of something so small.

"I look at him and I just think, 'Our family could look a lot different; It could have turned out a lot different,'" Julie Ward said.

If your child swallows a button battery, call 911 or the 24-hour battery ingestion hotline at (202) 625-3333.

The National Capital Poison Center in Washington says they can also cause permanent injury when they're placed in the nose or ears.

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