You may have heard about powerful little magnets in children’s toys.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission even ordered one company to stop selling them, calling them a “substantial product hazard” and that there were not enough warnings on the packaging for parents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says these high powered magnets, or rare-earth magnets, have caused “unnecessary surgeries, debilitating injuries, and other lifelong health impacts.”
One KELOLAND family with five children was aware of the dangers of magnetic toys and didn’t have any in the house.
But that didn’t stop their toddler from swallowing four high-powered magnets and nearly dying.
KELOLAND News investigates this hidden danger that could be in your home right now and reveals an unexpected issue that’s stopping the family from going to court.
Monty Trias is one busy three-year-old. But earlier this year, Monty was fighting for his life.
“I knew something was wrong because he kept vomiting constantly; without water, without food,” Rudy Trias said.
That happened over a March weekend; come Monday, Monty’s parents brought him into the Brookings emergency room.
“No test was ran, no blood was drawn, nothing. He just said, ‘Yep it looks like he has strep throat,'” Emily Trias said.
Monty was sent home with an antibiotic. Instead of getting better, he got worse.
“We’re like we’ve got to do something now; because there is something very wrong here,” Emily said.
Back at the doctor’s office an x-ray showed something foreign inside his body.
“And I said, ‘What?’ And sure enough we look and it almost looks like a perfect square, like a dice or something,” Emily said.
“And it looked like a scrabble piece in his abdomen,” Rudy said.
Monty was rushed to Sioux Falls for emergency surgery. Doctors discovered that square was four magnets that had stuck to one another.
“Magnets? How in the world did he get magnets? What are you talking about? And she (the doctor) goes, ‘and they were very strong ionic magnets.'” Emily said.
These rare-earth magnets have about 18 times the magnetic energy of a regular magnet. These are the magnets that were inside Monty’s intestines. And it’s nearly impossible to pull them apart.
“Each one got caught in a different loop in his intestine and then they connected,” Emily said.
“It burnt holes and pinched his intestines,” Rudy said.
Emily and Rudy had no idea how Monty had gotten a hold of these powerful magnets.
“I searched the house up and down to find these things and I couldn’t figure it out,” Rudy said.
A little piece of colored silicone was Emily’s first clue that the magnets were from a silicone trivet from a Copper Chef Cookware set the family had received as a gift.
Emily Trias: So yeah I knew magnets were there, but never in a million years did I think they would be a potential hazard for my child swallowing them.
Kennecke: Or that easy to get out?
Emily Trias: Right, exactly. It was just a matter of popping it out. It wasn’t anything that was very hard to do.
“And what do they look like? Little chocolate chip magnets,” Rudy said.
Emily opened a Copper Chef set from QVC, identical to the one she had received, for KELOLAND Investigates. We studied the packaging and warnings. The only indication of magnets was on the list of what was included in the package– two magnetic trivets.
But there was no specific warning about those magnets, or keeping the trivet itself out of the hands of a child.
“This is not safe for people to have in their homes,” Emily said.
Monty’s doctors reported the incident to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which tells us it is investigating.
The report to SaferProducts.gov says:
“The child required emergency surgery to remove the magnets and repair the holes in the intestine. He has been critically ill and required several trips to the operating room.”
“I can’t think of it as anything short of a miracle. Looking at how he was–It was just a minute, by minute in the journey of this, that he’s doing as well as he is,” Emily said.
They also contacted an attorney.
“We certainly believe the company should be held responsible,” Watertown Attorney Seamus Culhane said.
Emily is a state employee. The South Dakota Employee Health Plan paid $380,000 in medical bills for Monty’s treatment. Under law, the state would be entitled to reimbursement for the full amount if a lawsuit resulted in a judgment against the makers of Copper Chef.
“Normally what happens is that the health plans would reduce their interest proportionate to the attorney’s fees, sales tax and costs,” Culhane said.
But when the Turbak law firm contacted the state asking it to share legal fees and costs, the Director of Legal and Human Resources said no. Aaron Arnold wrote:
Culhane says his family’s law firm is too small to take on the huge and drawn-out expense of product litigation on its own.
The Triases can’t afford the cost involved, but believe a case could raise awareness.
“It was just really surprising to me that something like this could be on the market, available to anyone. And my fear was just man, what if somebody else’s child gets this and the same thing happens to them. And that would be the last thing I would ever want,” Emily said.
“The only people that benefit if this claim doesn’t get brought are the people that make the dangerous product and their insurance company. The state loses, the Trias loses and frankly the community loses,” Culhane said.
KELOLAND Investigates reached out Aaron Arnold of The South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources. Arnold told us, “We do not comment on pending or potential litigation matters.”
The parent company of Copper Chef, Tristar Products sent us a written statement which read:
“We were surprised by this report and are investigating. There are no other reports of injuries with the use of the trivet. We did not design or manufacture the trivet and no longer distribute the unit.”
Tristar also pointed out the instruction manual warns to “always supervise children who are near the cookware when in use or injury may result.”
While Tristar may not be distributing the cookware set with magnetic trivets any longer, a quick check on Amazon shows there are many similar products available.