Baby given strong magnets instead of big surgery

Andrew and Patrick were born in 2009 in Salt Lake City. It wasn’t long before people realized there’s a problem with one of the twins: he couldn’t poop! Patrick was born with an abnormality called rectal atresia – it affects only 1 out of every 5000 births – that’s 0.02% of all births.

In rectal atresia, there’s a membrane covering near the end of the intestines preventing the patient from defecating.  If you get to study embryology, you’ll find out that the intestines grow inside to the outside and the skin grows from the outside to the inside. The two tubes must meet, and sometimes they don’t form a hole for poop to go through.

So Patrick is not pooping.  Poop accumulates in the large intestine. Doctors attached a colostomy bag to Patrick.

But that’s not a big deal. This takes care of the problem temporarily, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Those of you with kids: imagine them being a kid with a colostomy bag: a plastic bag hanging from a hole in the abdomen. It’s not pretty while they’re running around going up and down the playground …

The big deal was how they solved the problem. Normally the pediatric surgeon needs to cut in the back of the baby, cut off the part of the large intestine with the membrane blockage, then sew the two lose ends back together. It’s a complex surgery, especially in a newborn.

The surgeon decided to try an innovative procedure, not approved by the FDA, not even tried before.  He went to toy stores hunting for magnets! The plan: put a magnet on either side of the membrane blockage. The two magnets will stick together and force that piece of the membrane to separate from the rest of the intestine – and viola! You have a hole and Patrick can poop!

The magnets must be round, fit in the baby’s intestine, and be strong enough not to fall off.  You’ve heard the stories of magnets inside the body can be dangerous, even deadly. When swallowed, magnets have created holes in the body. Here they want a specific place for this hole, and they don’t want surgery to do it.

After trying to find the perfect magnets in stores, the surgeon finally ordered the ones he wanted from an industrial supply company.  The surgery was a success, it worked exactly as expected. And the parents were so excited, they took photos of the baby’s first diaper poop in December 2009. (I’m sure you parents understand)


For further browsing (no worries – no diaper poop pictures):




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