ó Lincoln Punch was a week old in April 2011 when his
3-year-old sister found a pair of tweezers with a tiny light
attached. The girl broke open the compartment containing two
button batteries that powered the light, then fed the shiny
disks to the baby.
batteries stuck in his throat and stomach and burned through
his esophagus and trachea. Each breath was channeled into his
stomach instead of his lungs.
parents, Jennie and Tony Punch, of Sugar Grove, Pa., a small
town two hours northeast of Pittsburgh, are suing the chain
store that sold the tweezers. The company, they say, should
have had warnings on the package that the batteries were
dangerous and should be kept away from children.
a huge part of society today and it has to be dealt
with," said Shanin Specter, one of the attorneys in the
especially under age 3, live hand-to-mouth in the most literal
way. Their developing minds make them hell-bent investigators,
so almost anything they can curl their fingers around is
quickly deposited in the sensory lab of an orifice.
Consumer Product Safety Commission first warned about button
batteries in 1983, saying they should be kept away from
children. And yet each year, about 3,000 children are injured
and several die after swallowing the coinlike objects or
sticking them up their nose.
wish we could get the message out about button
batteries," said Glenn Isaacson, a professor of
otolaryngology at Temple University School of Medicine.
"Theyíre in everything. Everything. Thatís part of
30 years of practice, Ralph Wetmore, chief of otolaryngology
at the Childrenís Hospital of Philadelphia, has retrieved a
trove of objects from places where they did not belong:
earrings, pendants, charms, toys, wads of paper, lentils,
babies like Lincoln Punch, the items are often a gift offered
by siblings. Glitter in the ear, for instance, is considered a
"positive sister sign." And sometimes no human is to
blame at all. To cite a particularly revolting example,
cockroaches, seeking a dark, warm retreat, venture into ears
all on their own.
thingamabobs fall out or pass through the body without causing
a problem, Wetmore said. But the button batteries in hundreds
of household objects, such as remote controls, hearing aids,
toys, watches, and flashing jewelry, are the right size to
become lodged in the nose or throat or the narrowing channels
at the bottom of the stomach.
recalled once trying to save a child who was taken to the
hospital with flulike symptoms. As is often the case, the
parents did not see him swallow anything.
batteries that are too weak to power small devices, he
explained, carry enough charge to set up a current when they
come in contact with the moist tissues of the nose and throat.
two hours, that current can erode through the nasal septum or
the walls of the esophagus.
time Isaacson operated and removed the battery, the child had
bled to death.
1985, 45,476 children younger than 6 have ingested batteries,
with a dramatic increase in more recent years. In 2012, 2,276
children swallowed them, more than four times the number in
believes that parents are already overwhelmed with cautionary
labels and public-service messages advising them of the
dangers that everyday products pose to their children.
donít have to get rid of button batteries, and we donít
have to get involved in a bunch of warnings," Specter
said. "The first line of defense is a childproof
everyone agrees about the need for safer packaging, but most
specialists say that warnings, too, are essential.
most cases, children get hold of them when they get thrown
away," said Dr. Nicholas B. Slamon, a critical care
specialist at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for
recalled a recent case in which a mother tried to take her sonís
temperature, realized the thermometerís battery was dead,
removed it, and tossed it in the trash. When the motherís
back was turned, her toddler daughter dug through the garbage,
found the battery, and popped it in her mouth.
doctors were not optimistic that they could save the girl,
Slamon said, and they were intensely relieved when she
local, often heroic efforts Ö are insufficient in addressing
what is a national epidemic that requires national
attention," said Peter Koltai, chief of the division of
pediatric otolaryngology at Stanford University School of
Medicine, announcing a task force to develop better
"consumer education, product labeling, device X-ray
specificity, political action, and fund-raising."
appointed Ian Jacobs, medical director of the Center for
Pediatric Airway Disorders at Childrenís, to lead the task
is being made, Jacobs said. The electronics industry,
greeting-card companies, and battery makers are working with
health professionals and consumer groups. Together, he said,
they are developing warning labels, designing more secure
battery compartments, and producing smaller batteries that wonít
get lodged even in the narrow passages inside a childís
changes are welcome, Specter said, but they come too late for
swallowing the batteries, the baby required multiple, complex
surgeries and spent months in the hospital. He developed blood
clots that clogged the circulation to his extremities.
first birthday, his mother, Jennie Punch, posted an update on
the website caringbridge.org, where she has kept a journal of
that everything has been done, Lincoln lost all the tips of
his fingers on his right hand, all of his toes on his right
foot, his thumb, pointer finger, and half of his middle, ring,
and pinky finger on his left hand. His left foot Ö is almost
half gone," she wrote. "But the good news is that he
is learning to do all the things that he should be doing and
it doesnít seem to bother him a bit! Iím so proud of my