Despite having the battery surgically removed, the child's condition did not improve. Later a CT scan revealed that there was a fistula through her esophagus and trachea, which was created due to the inflammation.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 16, 2021. It has since been updated.
Back in October last year, a toddler named Reese began wheezing and experiencing a stuffy nose. Her parents, mother Trista Hamsmith and father Chris, took the congested girl to a pediatrician. Suspecting it's an upper airway infection known as croup, the medical expert prescribed some steroids. But soon after the visit, the family found that a button battery was missing from a remote control. Horrified that it could have something to do with Reese's condition, her parents looked up the symptoms of button battery ingestion online only to realize that their worst nightmare had come true.
They rushed the toddler to the emergency room and following some tests learned that Reese had indeed swallowed a button battery that had created a hole in her esophagus. "Once the battery is ingested, it starts to erode and it starts to burn," the Texas mother told TODAY Parents. "Button battery ingestion is so much more common than people realize." Despite having the battery surgically removed, Reese's condition did not improve. Later a CT scan revealed that there was a fistula through her esophagus and trachea, which was created due to the inflammation.
"When that tunnel formed, it was allowing air to go where it didn’t need to be. Food and drinks also went where they didn’t need to go," said Hamsmith adding that Reese underwent another surgery to have a gastronomy tube implanted to get her nutrition. "That morning was the last morning that we saw her as herself," recalled the mother. From then on, she had numerous surgeries but doctors could do nothing to save her life. On December 17, 2020, the 19-month-old tragically succumbed to her injuries. For Hamsmith, losing Reese was like the end of the world, especially due to the fact that her death could have been prevented. Despite being grief-stricken by the unimaginable loss, Hamsmith was determined not to let any other parents or family suffer this painful loss.
"When we thought everything was going to be fine, I just had this vision of advocating for the safety and awareness of button batteries with Reese by my side," said Hamsmith during an interview with Good Morning America. "Her being gone did not change my desire to want to protect other children and get this information out there. Every day we wait, another kid is going to ingest a battery. Had somebody [spoken out] before, our lives would look very different." Pointing at the shocking number of batter-related emergencies in children, she said, "In the past year alone, there has been a 93% increase in ER-treated injuries for young children due to button batteries."
"We can prevent this from happening with new laws and safety regulations and increased education for medical professionals and parents," she told PEOPLE. Shortly after the death of her daughter, Hamsmith set up a nonprofit organization called Reese's Purpose through which she has been educating parents about button battery safety. Hamsmith also shared that she came across a plaque in Reese's hospital room that inspired her to keep going and raise awareness about button batteries. "There was a plaque that read, 'He has a plan, and I have a purpose,' and I know that God has a plan, and Reese has a purpose," she said. "It sits on my fireplace mantel now to remind me not to quit."
She has since called for changes in the packing of such batteries and also in items that they are found in. Hamsmith managed to create a national Button Battery Awareness Day (which is on June 12), has testified before the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and is now urging Congress to whip out legislation to create national standards for consumer products that have button batteries. "The main thing is that 10 years down the road if I hear about a kid dying of a button battery ingestion, I want to know that I did everything I could without a shadow of a doubt to help prevent and help put the knowledge out," said the mother. "It’s a hidden danger."
Ultimately, she is hoping that batteries manufacturers will make it safer for kids. "We just need safer batteries," she said. "Kids are dying. We’ve got to do everything we can to get this information to parents and put pressure on the industry to make changes to protect the kids." Ingesting a button battery can seriously injure the esophagus in a short time, so it is important to keep a few things in mind while using them in a home where there are little children. First, keep a track of button batteries that are in your house, and place them out of the child's reach. Also, regularly check if any of them are missing.
Next, every parent should know the symptoms of button battery ingestion, which may include fever, wheezing, irritability, difficulty breathing, coughing, throat pain, choking, issues while swallowing, and vomiting, according to a website resource created by Dr. Kris Janata and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Finally, it is extremely important to act quickly as the esophagus can be seriously injured just within two hours of a child ingesting a button battery. "The clock is ticking from the moment the battery is lodged in the esophagus," said Janta who is a professor in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
In case of an emergency call 911 or the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666, which is available 24/7.
Cover image source (representative): Getty Images | Photos by (L) FotoDuets, (R) flubydust