A Sanford mother has joined a growing group warning of the choking risk associated with popular Fidget Spinner toys after her 10-year-old son required a medical procedure to remove a plastic disc broken off the toy from his esophagus on July 21.
Beth Whitehead Bray said the most troublesome part of her family’s ordeal — aside from her son Tanner nearly choking — was that X-rays taken at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill were unable to locate the quarter-sized disc. Doctors were able to find and remove the disc during an endoscopy performed through the mouth, and the hospital has asked the family if it can keep the object to donate for research.
“These spinners were sturdier when they first came out,” Bray said Tuesday. “But because of the huge popularity, they’ve become mass produced and much more cheaply made. Tanner pulled this centerpiece of his friend’s toy with his teeth and immediately ingested it. And it wasn’t hard to do.”
Her son isn’t alone. In May, a 10-year-old girl in Houston was hospitalized after swallowing one of the metal ball bearings from her Fidget Spinner. And in June, a 7-year-old boy in Sydney, Australia was hospitalized after swallowing the same disc piece as Tanner. Both children have fully recovered. The World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH) released a statement in June including Fidget Spinners in its “dangerous toys” list, warning parents, “Do not have a false sense of security that a toy is safe because it is popular. Avoid toys for young children that may present a choking hazard.”
Bray received the phone call every parent fears on the afternoon of July 20. Staff at the YMCA in Sanford told her Tanner had swallowed the piece he had broken off from his friend’s Spinner and although he was still breathing, he was crying from chest pains and the panic that something felt lodged in his esophagus. Bray picked him up minutes later and took him to FastMed Urgent Care, where an initial X-ray showed the disc near his lung. The images were uploaded to a disk, and Tanner was hurried to UNC Hospitals, where a room and staff were waiting on his arrival.
UNC had problems uploading the FastMed images, and its X-rays were showing no sign of the disc. At that point, Tanner was having trouble swallowing, but UNC doctors told Bray they felt uncomfortable performing surgery without a visual of the toy. More X-rays were performed at 11:30 p.m. that night, and still the disc was nowhere to be found. To Bray’s relief, the pulmonologist informed her that he would still go on with the procedure the following morning.
“The next morning, they prepped him, took him back and 45 minutes later, the doctor and his team came out and told me they got it,” Bray said. “I said, ‘Good. That’s what I’d been pleading all along.’ The doctors were wonderful, and I understood their hesitation. But it was a terrifying experience.”
The disc was lodged vertically in Tanner’s lower esophagus, allowing air to still flow on each side. Had it lodged horizontally, the situation would have been more dire.
Tanner, fortunately, recovered fully from the procedure within hours and was eating chicken nuggets and French fries on his way home from the hospital. Bray updated her son’s progress on Facebook the night before and the morning of the procedure, and she said the support and prayers she received at that time helped her maintain her composure during a difficult time.
Now that life has returned to normal, Bray said she wants to be an advocate for the dangers associated with Fidget Spinners.
“Parents, just get rid of them,” she said. “I understand some argue they’re helpful for children with ADHD, but I argue that children with ADHD are more likely to take these toys apart and see how they work. They, like all children, are apt to play with things with their unintended purpose. What happened to Tanner can happen to any kid. And it’s terrifying.”
And they’re not just choking hazards. There are reports the toys contain deadly amounts of lead. Exploding bluetooth-enabled Spinners have been reported in Mississippi and Alabama.
“We were lucky,” Bray said. “Tanner was 10 and was able to express what was wrong. But younger children could swallow these things and not be able to express what happened. They’re just worth the risk.”