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Swallowed Bobby Pin Ends Up in Child's Kidney

This X-ray of the boy’s abdomen shows two sharp, opaque pieces of a bobby pin in the boy’s body.
This X-ray of the boy’s abdomen shows two sharp, opaque pieces of a bobby pin in the boy’s body. (Image credit: BMJ 2015)

Kids will put anything in their mouths, and usually this doesn’t cause serious harm. But for one 4-year-old boy in Saudi Arabia, swallowing a bobby pin led to a perforated intestine, a pierced kidney and surgery to fix it all, according to a new report of his case.

After a medical team operated to remove the pin, the boy recovered without further complications, according to the doctors who treated the boy and wrote the report of his case.

"Children actually start exploring the world using their mouth as soon as they are able to pick up objects," said Dr. Yasmin Abdulaziz Yousef, of the department of surgery at KAMC-JD, National Guard Health Affairs in Jeddah, who treated the boy and co-authored the report of his case. However, serious complications due to swallowed objects are really rare, because objects typically "pass through the gastrointestinal tract and end up in the diaper," she said.

Problems are more common when the object that was swallowed is thin and sharp, such as pins, nails and fish bones, or when children swallow disk batteries or magnets, she said. "These have a higher chance of causing perforations and other serious problems," Yousef told Live Science.

When the boy's parents brought him to the hospital where Yousef works, he had already been having pain in the upper right part of his abdomen for about three months, according to the case report. He had also been experiencing fever and chills. He had seen one doctor, who had diagnosed him with a urinary tract infection (UTI), and prescribed antibiotics, but the boy's condition had not improved much after he finished the medicine.

He had also been admitted to another medical facility, where an X-ray showed the bobby pin in his right upper abdomen. At that time the boy had admitted to swallowing the object about a month before he started to experience his symptoms. But those doctors assured his parents that the bobby pin would pass through his system. [9 Weird Ways Kids Can Get Hurt]

However, the boy's symptoms did not subside, and when he came to Yousef's hospital in January 2015, a CT scan revealed that the bobby pin had become lodged in the boy's right kidney.

This intra-operative picture shows the bobby pin being removed from the boy's body. (Image credit: Dr. Naweed Hussein)

The ends of the pin had rusted and become sharp, and the pin had pierced through the first section of the small intestine and penetrated deep into his kidney, according to the report.

"We have treated a few patients with complications due to swallowed disk batteries as well, but I have never encountered a foreign object that perforates the bowel and gets lodged in the kidney in my practice before," Yousef said.

The doctors operated and removed the pin, and the boy recovered without any further issues, according to the report, published today (Nov. 5) in the journal BMJ Case Reports. 

The bobby pin, now broken, that surgeons removed from the boy's body. (Image credit: Dr. Yasmin Yousef)

"As a parent myself, there is no way to stop kids from exploring the world with their mouths," Youseftold Live Science. "It is not possible."

But parents can protect their kids by keeping sharp objects, tiny toys, nuts, fridge magnets and disc batteries out of toddlers' reach, she said. "Toys that have small parts cannot be given to children under the age of 3," Yousef said."Toys operated by disc batteries have to have a battery cover that is screwed in place."

However, "if a child chokes for no apparent reason or starts to wheeze without being a known asthmatic," parents should seek medical advice, because this may mean that the child might have inhaled an object," Yousef said.

Objects that are inhaled can cause more serious consequences than objects that are swallowed, she said.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.