An eight-year-old Harrogate boy died after swallowing several magnetic metal objects which joined together in his body, an inquest heard today.
Rhys Millum died on October 2, 2022, at Harrogate District Hospital.
The inquest into his death opened on October 19, 2022 and was adjourned until today for a full hearing in Northallerton.
The coroner said the cause of death was obstruction and perforation of the small intestine, which was caused by a “foreign object”.
Rhys’ mother, Andrea, giving evidence, said her son came into her bedroom “doubled over in pain” on Friday, September 29, 2022.
She said he was crying and complaining of stomach pain and she took him to Harrogate District Hospital shortly before 8am that morning.
A doctor specialising in emergency medicine examined Rhys’ abdomen three times while he was in the hospital, the court heard.
Reading from a medical report, the coroner said Rhys was vomiting and described his pain level as “8/10″.
Rhys’ mother said she was initially concerned her son may have been suffering from a urinary tract infection, appendicitis or even diabetes, as her daughter has type one diabetes.
However, the doctor, who also gave evidence, said the boy’s abdomen was “soft” during the examination and found there was “no rigidity”. He added:
“There was no sign of a hernia and his bowel sounds were as expected.
“His urine test did not show blood or infection, and his blood sugar levels were normal.”
Following his examinations, the doctor told the court he suspected Rhys had mesenteric adenitis, a condition in which the lymph nodes become inflamed and cause pain in the lower right abdomen. It is “common in children”, the doctor added.
The doctor recalled Rhys saying his pain level had dropped before discharging him.
He gave Rhys liquid ibuprofen and anti-sickness medication before he and his mother left the hospital, the court heard.
Rhys’s mother said:
“We were told to keep up with paracetamol and fluids.
“We were also told to come back if the pain continued.”
‘Asked for sushi and strawberry laces’
After leaving hospital, Rhys’ mother said she bought her son and his brother some food on their way home. She said:
“On the way home, Rhys was asking for sushi and strawberry laces.
“I bought it and then set the boys up for a duvet day on the sofa when we got home.
“But Rhys brought it all back up when we got back.”
Rhys’s father, Richard, planned to have his sons to stay that weekend, which was a regular arrangement between the two parents, the court heard.
His mother told the court she advised Richard that Rhys had “been to hospital to get his stomach checked” and to “keep up with paracetamol and fluids”.
Rhys was sick “not long after getting to my house”, Richard said, adding he “continued to be sick over the weekend after that”.
“I called Richard just to check how Rhys was. He said ‘he’s still not great but we’re going to have a chill weekend’.
“I think we expected it to be a kind of 48-hour thing.”
Despite his son remaining unwell, Richard did not take Rhys to the hospital or call 111 over the weekend. He said:
“I didn’t want to hassle the NHS if he had a stomach bug. I also didn’t want to infect people at the hospital.”
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After bathing Rhys’s brother on Sunday evening, Richard said Rhys came into the bathroom and told his father he “could not see” and fell unconscious shortly after.
Andrea said she received a call from Rhys’s father to say:
“Rhys is not good. I’m calling an ambulance.”
Richard then tried to resuscitate his son while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, the court heard.
The ambulance took Rhys to Harrogate hospital, where medical staff also tried to resuscitate him for a further 50 minutes, the coroner said.
However, their efforts were unsuccessful and Rhys was certified dead at the hospital at around 8.45pm on Sunday, October 2, 2022. He had suffered cardiac arrest, the court heard.
The coroner said a post-mortem scan showed a metallic object, “which looked like a screw”, was present in his abdomen.
However, the post-mortem examination revealed 10 small magnetic metal objects had joined in his body and “obstructed and perforated the small intestine”, the court heard.
This was caused by “ingesting a foreign object”.
The coroner said Rhys’s father, Richard, had “acquired the objects from a friend” around a month before his death for his sons to play with, as they are often used to build structures and shapes.
Following Rhys’s death, police were made aware of a trending challenge on TikTok, in which users “mimic having a piercing” using the magnets, including on the cheek, the court heard, but there was no clear evidence this was a factor in Rhys’ death.
The coroner said in her conclusion:
“I conclude neither parent saw Rhys use the magnets as a piercing, nor did they see him put them in his mouth.
“The police checked Rhys’ tablet and found he did not have a TikTok account.
“However, they did find a video of him and his brother which suggested he was aware of such footage. He could also access the internet and could have watched such footage online, like on YouTube.”
The coroner said Rhys’s death was a “completely tragic sequence of events”.
She added that although the metal magnets are legal and available to buy, she hoped Rhys’s death may “highlight the risks these objects can pose to young children”.
It appears Rhys’s case is not an isolated incident.
In 2009, doctors in Northern Ireland saved the life of a three-year-old boy who had swallowed some magnets. His appendix had burst when they clamped down on it.
More recently, a boy in Scotland nearly died in 2021 after swallowing magnets as part of a TikTok trend, while a four-year-old Welsh boy had to have his bowel cut open in 2022 to remove 52 magnetic beads he had swallowed over the course of several months.
In 2021, the NHS called for a ban on the small magnetic objects in the UK.
Professor Simon Kenny, paediatric surgeon and national clinical director for children and young people at NHS England, said at the time:
“Magnets are a source of fascination for children, and magnetic toys can look like a cheap and cheerful way of occupying the kids, but ultimately they aren’t safe and shouldn’t be for sale.”