Life After Swallowing A Button Battery

Life After Swallowing A Button Battery

On October 16, 2010, my son Emmett became ill. He was coughing, lethargic, and had a fever with very little desire to eat. Concerned, my husband Michael took him to a local pediatric urgent care in our home town of Phoenix, Arizona. Emmett was assessed and sent home with the diagnosis of a cold or flu virus. As Emmett’s symptoms increased and my concern grew, I battled with my internal thoughts. Should I take him back to the doctor or am I over reacting? Two days later, I took Emmett to the pediatrician and he suggested that Emmett might have croup. My mommy feelings felt strongly that something else was wrong. While getting ready to leave, the doctor came to find me and strongly advised me to take him to the emergency department.

After a 10 minute drive to the hospital, Emmett was given a few breathing treatments and a chest x-ray was ordered. I will never forget the feeling that pierced through my body as I viewed the x-ray. A large round object was lodged in my son’s throat. What was it and how did I not notice him choking?! The doctor came in to explain that the item in Emmett’s throat was a button battery. The radiologist could even read the serial number. Where did this battery come from and how did Emmett get it? We later discovered that the battery came from the remote control to our DVD player. Emmett was immediately rushed to the children’s hospital. This is where our life-changing journey begins…

The button battery that Emmett swallowed burned two holes in his esophagus and into his airway. The location where the battery got stuck was only one centimeter above his fragile heart. We were told that the chances of Emmett surviving was fair and if he did survive the damage left behind would be astronomical. Emmett spent eight months of 2011 in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Phoenix. Five attempts were made to reconstruct Emmett’s esophagus, leaving Emmett to rely on a gastric tube in his abdomen to receive his nutrition. Emmett could not eat by mouth anymore. His airway became weak and could not give him the support he needed to breathe on his own. One year later a tracheotomy cannula was inserted to help him breathe. In total, Emmett has undergone more than 30 surgical procedures. While the surgeries were life-saving, his lungs have been damaged due to long-term ventilation use and aspirated-induced pneumonia. And even to this day, Emmett requires ventilator support at night to help him sleep comfortably and safely.

After almost two years of treatment in our home city, his doctors suggested we go for a second opinion to the Esophageal Center at Cincinnati Children’s.

After a thorough evaluation at Cincinnati Children’s, the team determined that Emmett’s esophagus was not salvageable and that a complete removal and replacement of it were vital for Emmett’s overall health. The new esophagus would allow Emmett to be able to eat by mouth again and also prevent further aspiration to his lungs that the strictures were causing.

A few months later Emmett underwent a 14-hour surgery for colonic interposition, where his entire esophagus was removed and replaced with a portion of his colon. His surgeon, Dr. von Allmen, needed to enter the side of Emmett’s chest and neck to be able to remove the old and damaged esophagus. Nearly a foot of Emmett’s large intestine (just below the small intestine) was removed and configured through Emmett’s body to be the new esophagus.  This animation illustrates the type of esophagus replacement surgery Emmett had (except that he does not have congenital esophageal atresia).

Although using the colon as an esophagus is a rare procedure, it reduces many risks that a donor esophagus might produce. For instance, Emmett does not need to be on anti-rejection medications because the tissue used was already native to Emmett’s body.

Emmett’s recovery time was two weeks shorter than anticipated and nothing short of a miracle… our family made it home two days before Christmas! I recently spoke about our experience at Cincinnati Children’s in a Tell Me A Story.

Emmett today is a completely different child since his esophagus replacement surgery. He is attending preschool and making new friends. He enjoys attending his Sunday school class and loves to try and sing along during the singing time. His energy level has improved ten-fold and he is exploring the world by running, jumping and wrestling around with his five-year-old brother, Ethan. Emmett has been sleeping longer and more consistent hours during the night, needing minimal suctioning through his trach. His lungs are improving each month and we hope to be able to schedule reconstructive surgery on Emmett’s airway in the next year or two.

The most exciting aspect of Emmett’s new esophagus is that he is finally eating by mouth! An activity Emmett has not taken part in for over two and a half years. It was not an easy start but after a lot of hard work with his swallowing therapist, Emmett is enjoying scrambled eggs, bananas, spaghetti, soups, crackers and much, much more.  Our family is so grateful for the medical professionals at Cincinnati Children’s – especially Dr. von Allmen and his nurse practitioner Marilyn Stoops. They have worked so hard to change our family’s life!

As a mother I replay the morning we noticed Emmett’s illness over and over in my mind. How did I not know? If I only paid attention to the kind of batteries the remote controls required!  I have now come to terms with it: replaying the past will not fix the future. To help with the healing process, my husband Michael and I started a non-profit organization called Emmett’s Fight Foundation. Our goal is to educate families, parents, caregivers and grandparents about the dangers of button battery ingestion and provide suggestions on how to keep one’s home safe from button batteries. More information is available on these websites:

Editor’s Note: Emmett had surgery again on August 27th, 2014 to reconstruct his airway. This will enable him to work on his speech, a step that will put him on the right path to attend kindergarten next year. And on December 17, 2014 Emmett was able to have his tracheostomy removed, allowing him to play soccer

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Karla Rauch

About the Author: Karla Rauch

Karla Rauch is a mother of two adorable boys, Emmett and Ethan, and wife to Michael. Karla and her husband founded Emmett’s Fight, an organization to educate families about the dangers of button batteries. When she’s not raising awareness of button battery ingestion, (or managing the schedules of two boys!) she blogs at

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  1. Debbie Heyne October 03, 19:40
    I just wanted to say you r in my prayers-my husband has a trache and feeding tube due to throat cancer. I can't imagine a youngster and kuddos to you for insisting on finding out what was wrong. We painted at Childrens Hospital for several years and they are fantastic-I am sharing your sons' story to give a heads up to other parents as a warning. God Bless you !!
  2. Eleanor Donoghue October 04, 17:40
    This is a remarkable story but for your vigilance Lord knows if he would be alive today - I am 91 years old and I hope he has a long fun-filled life. Keep us posted on the next surgery and tell Emmett we here in L A are praying for him and also praising his bravery for what he has gone through - with his whole family LUV - Ellie
  3. Kimberly Thomas October 04, 18:23
    Dear Karla, By odd coincidence, my husband and I had JUST changed out the two button batteries in our dog's bark collar this morning. As soon as I read your story, I found them on the counter, taped them together, and put them in the recycling basket. THANK YOU for spreading this awareness, and I send you and your courageous family MANY blessings on your journey!! Kim
  4. Madeline A Albach October 04, 20:30
    I've been following Emmett's story for quite awhile. My cousin Kathy S. had posted it and lil Emmett has been in my prayers every night. I also told my 3 Grandkids to never ever put anything into your mouth. I also try to tell every parent I run into about your horrible ordeal. God Bless You and Your Family and you Wonderful Doctors. A 70 yrs old Grandma.<3
  5. Claudia Poore October 05, 00:39
    What a wonderful outcome to such a devastating problem. You have made so many people aware of the things that children can ingest and the damage that they can do. Many heartfelt blessings to you and your family, especially Emmett. Since I'm a resident in the Cincinnati area, I am very familiar with Children's Hospital and all of the great things that the doctors and nurses undertake. My grandson who has many food allergies and is 12 years of age just spent 3 days there. Congratulations on having such a supportive and wonderful family. Prayers for a successful future of recovery.
  6. Please tell me that you're heading to keep this up! Its so great and so important. I cant wait to read a lot more from you. I just feel like you know so substantially and know how to make people listen to what you might have to say. This blog is just too cool to become missed. Terrific stuff, genuinely. Please, PLEASE keep it up!
  7. Emergency Exchange Support January 01, 02:03
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  8. Rod Howard January 15, 21:24
    Thank you for sharing this story. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers!!
  9. Janet Hammond January 16, 11:35
    Wow! What a story. I'm so happy that things are going well for Emmett. Very strange that this story showed up on my FB page the very next day after I removed button batteries from some of our grandchildren's toys. Our four month old niece was coming to spend the day & I still have all of our grand daughter's toys that are still like brand new with the exception of needing new batteries. Every toy that I opened has button batteries in it. Although they do have a secure cover with a screw that has to be removed to get to the batteries, if they are so dangerous for children then why are they used in most of the children's toys? This definitely has been a good learning lesson & I thank you for sharing you story. Good luck to Emmett on his future healing.
  10. Michelle January 16, 13:17
    Thank you so much for being so brave and sharing your story. I'm certain you have helped other children and made us all aware. I have shared your story with many and we all were unaware of the dangers of button batteries. I will keep your family in my prayers.
  11. Amy January 17, 23:08
    Thank you for sharing your story. What a precious little boy you have!
  12. Tina Evancho February 05, 13:53
    My daughter almost died from a button battery lodged above the stomach pressed up against the aorta. The emergency room workers didn't even know the damage a battery like this within two hours. I feel so lucky my daughter Abigail even survived this ordeal. I thought I was the only parent to go through something like this. It breaks my heart to see so many children have suffered like Abby. When are they going to stop putting these batteries in our children's toys????
  13. […] traveled a long road to get here. You can read more about his recovery from a button battery injury here,here, and […]
  14. […] My youngest son, Emmett, swallowed a button battery eight years ago and has suffered serious injuries to his airway and lungs as a result. The damage to Emmett’s esophagus and airway led to 68 surgical procedures and therapies. He’s on the upswing now but we have traveled a long road to get here. You can read more about Emmett’s experience on a previous blog post: Life After Swallowing a Button Battery. […]