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Small battery claims the life of 2-year-old

A family in Oklahoma is devastated by the passing of their sweet little toddler, Brianna, just two days after Christmas. Now they want everyone to know what they did not: Button batteries can kill.

It’s something out of a nightmare. Two-year-old Brianna Florer was perfectly fine one day — her usual bright, cheerful self — and gone the next after vomiting blood and turning blue. Doctors recognized the problem immediately: It was clear the toddler had swallowed a button battery. Despite an emergency helicopter ride and over two hours of surgery, Brianna tragically passed away.

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Chances are good that you or someone in your home received some kind of gift or gadget this holiday season that requires one of the coin-shaped lithium batteries to function. Many parents aren’t fully aware of the dangers these batteries can pose if a child swallows one, a perception that Brianna’s grandparents and parents hope to change.

For one thing, these tiny batteries are hard to keep track of. Even the largest ones are no bigger than a quarter, but their size doesn’t make them innocuous. If anything, it makes them even more so. Brianna’s family has no idea when she swallowed the battery, because they had no idea that she had swallowed a battery. Parents often find little surprises in a child’s diaper — a coin, a bead and, yes, sometimes a button. But while those items pose little danger once they’re in a child’s digestive tract, a button battery is very, very different.

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Most parents think that in a worst-case scenario, a button battery will simply travel through a child’s digestive tract and end up in the potty or a diaper, and while this is sometimes the case, it’s nowhere close to a worst-case scenario. In fact, once the battery comes into contact with saliva, an electric charge is created. If the battery becomes lodged in the esophagus — as was the case with Brianna — or anywhere else in the digestive tract, the battery acid begins to burn through whatever it comes into contact with, including organs and blood vessels, in as little as two hours.

In Brianna’s case, doctors believe the battery became lodged in her throat and the acid burned through both it and her carotid artery, which is likely why she was vomiting blood.

Brianna’s grandfather, Kent Vice, told a local news outlet that he wants everyone to know how serious things can become when a child swallows a cell battery, and he hopes to see the batteries off the market given the dangers they pose: “I want to keep these things out of houses,” he told Tulsa World. “They are dangerous.”

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In 2011, a bill was introduced to Congress that would have put safeguards in place to make it harder for children to access the batteries and that would require manufacturers to place warnings on batteries, but that bill died on the floor.

Given the fact that button batteries account for 84 percent of battery-related emergency room visits across America and that the average age of the patient admitted is 4, it’s clear some action needs to be taken. In the meantime, there are ways you can reduce the risk that these batteries pose to your children.

First, be aware of which items in your home take the batteries. They’re showing up in more and more places: wearable tech, bathroom scales, flashlights, those silly singing greeting cards and even temporal thermometers specifically marketed for use with children. Know which items in your home pose a risk to your children, and keep them out of reach, especially if the battery compartment is easily accessed. Change batteries away from children, and keep spare ones locked up, just as you would with any other caustic chemical or dangerous item.

You also need to be aware of the symptoms of battery ingestion, which include fever, nausea, complaints of swallowing pain, a loss of appetite and sometimes drooling. Oftentimes these symptoms seem like the flu, but if you suspect your child has come into contact with a battery, you need to take them to the emergency room immediately. That’s because the dangers don’t just end with swallowing a battery. Batteries that have found their way into an ear or up a nose can also cause serious internal damage. Symptoms at those sites can include fluid drainage.

Finally, spread the word. A swallowed battery can mean death for a child, and many parents simply aren’t aware of the dangers they pose or that so many devices use them as a power source.

Brianna’s death is senseless and tragic, but it doesn’t have to be in vain. On a GoFundMe set up for Brianna’s funeral expenses, her family hopes that the one spot of brightness in this dark time will be that other parents will read their story and be spared the pain of losing a child.

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