Queensland Hospitals failing to diagnose children ingesting lithium batteries resulting in grave injuries

Published 08 Aug 2015

Tragically, for two Queensland families and their young children, a situation alarmingly too familiar has led to devastating injuries and even death. For the parents of young children, it is all too common for the removal of foreign objects like food and toys from the ears, nose, and mouth. But more and more parents have started to see devastating repercussions from the failure to detect and respond to an unsuspecting offender: roughly 1cm in diameter batteries found in remote controls, watches, and even children’s toys.

The children didn’t appear to have any foreign objects lodged where they weren’t supposed to be so their parents did what anyone would do in the situation where the children began exhibiting everyday symptoms of being sick: they went to the hospital for help. The children presented to the hospitals with cough, stomach ache, high temperature, and, in some cases, black bowel movements and even coughing/vomiting up blood: Unfortunately, both of these Queensland hospitals failed to provide that help as they both failed to recognize the symptoms on presentation and were unable to detect the children had ingested the tiny lithium batteries. Scans and imaging were conducted but, in both instances, the discoveries of the abnormal object were written off and dismissed as either a shirt button inadvertently caught on the imaging or the symptoms were a result of swallowing too much blood from a nose bleed. Both hospitals were negligent in their failure to diagnose the foreign objects which directly resulted in serious injury and death.

In the case of the 4yo Queensland boy, his spine is tragically corroded due to lithium poisoning to the point he will suffer from lifelong, debilitating and crippling injuries. The boy presented to the hospital with respiratory issues. X-rays were arranged where radiologists mistakenly identified the lithium battery he had ingested as a button on his shirt. The substantial delay in recognizing and diagnosing that small round object on the x-ray was actually a lithium battery resulted in post-operative care being unable to save three of his vertebra which has suffered substantial corrosion and actually had collapsed. The young boy was airlifted to another hospital in Brisbane where he spent nearly 6 months in a body cast. He is now able to walk but will have limited movement for life because of the Queensland Hospital’s lack or urgency.

Although the boy’s injuries are lifelong and devastating, he survived the hospital’s negligence. The 4yo Queensland girl , however, after being admitted to the hospital 3 times, was not as lucky and tragically passed away due to lithium battery poisoning . Her family had taken her twice to the local hospital with a sore stomach, high temperature, and black bowel movements and Doctors were quick to dismiss the symptoms as resulting from the child having swallowed too much blood from a nose bleed. After being discharged, the little girl vomited blood into the parking lot of the hospital and returned for observation over several hours but, again, Doctors assured the mother her daughter would be fine. After being discharged a 3rd time, the little girl again vomited blood but this time collapsed from a heart attack and tragically passed away.

These types of lithium batteries are more and more common in every day household products and items. General Practitioners, Hospitals, and Emergency Departments ought to be aware of these types of dangers and have a duty to recognize and respond appropriately to the infestation of such dangers foreign objects.

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