Connecticut Children’s Medical Center

CT Lab Hopes to Decrease Dangers of Ingested Button Batteries

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Inside thermometers or even your key fob, batteries power up a lot of our everyday lives.

The Poison Control says more than 3,500 people in the United States swallow button batteries every year, which can cause disastrous, even deadly, outcomes.

“This should not be a problem. Children should not be passing away or harmed from ingesting batteries,” said Melissa Fensterstock, the co-founder and CEO of Landsdowne Labs, which rents space on Fairfield University’s campus.

Scientists in that Connecticut lab are hoping to make batteries safer if they’re accidentally ingested.

The company says their scientists have created a special battery coating called ChildLok.

When coated on a battery, once the battery comes in contact with saliva the battery deactivates.

“The industry has been trying to work on it for decades and we have it,” said Fensterstock.

This science could have changed everything for 13-month-old Denym.

Our NBC sister station in Washington, DC introduced us to her.

“It was like she was just getting worse by the day,” said the child’s mother Tanae Hall.

When Denym was vomiting, coughing, and getting hoarse, her mother brought her from one hospital to the next.

Four days and many tests later, an X-ray discovered the culprit: what they thought was a nickel was a button battery.

“It really is heartbreaking. In fact, I took the battery out of Denym’s esophagus,” said Dr. Anthony Sandler of Children’s National Hospital in DC.

Despite emergency surgery, the damage was already done.

Images show the burn in Denym’s esophagus compared with that of a healthy child.

The little girl now has a feeding tube.

“It’s really tough to go tell the family that there’s a big burn in their esophagus and I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen,” said Sandler.

So stories like Denym’s are why these scientists in Connecticut continue their work.

They showed us their ham test where the lunch meat is used as a substitute for human tissue.

“This is a battery that you would find off the shelf and this is what the tissue looks like just after an hour and 40 minutes,” said Fensterstock.

The difference between that example and one with a coated battery is stark.

The regular battery leaves a colored burnt-like ring on the meat.

Landsdowne Labs says they need to continue testing their product, but hope manufacturers will be using their coating and selling safer batteries on shelves by 2022.

“The battery might still need to be surgically removed, right, but at least it buys the ER more time,” said Fenerstock.

Until there’s a safer solution, parents should request an X-ray when a child shows these warning signs:

They can’t keep food down or don’t want to eat, sound hoarse and are excessively drooling.

“I just think about if I would have waited longer, my child probably would not be here,” said Hall.

"The problem is, button batteries can cause injuries within 15 minutes,” said Dr. Christopher Grindle a pediatric otolaryngologist at Connecticut Children’s, who is all for a solution to prevent the problems he's seen.

Grindle said Connecticut Children’s sees button battery ingestions in their hospital ten to twelve times a year.

He recommends parents know what items in their house use these batteries.

“When you’re using those electronic devices make sure those battery compartments are tight and kind of away from curious eyes,” he said.  

Connecticut Children’s has a button battery team ready to respond to emergencies there at all times.

Call Poison Control 800-498-8666 or 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect ingestion.

For kids over 1-year-old, “You can give two teaspoons of honey every 10 minutes on your way to the hospital. What that does is it coats the battery and helps prevent some of the current and the basic chemical from forming around it and stopping some of the injury from happening,” said Grindle.

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