On a Wednesday night in January, Brandon Bruski went to his mom with stomach cramps.
“I sent him back to bed.” his mother, Kelly Bruski, said.
But then, it got worse.
“It hurt,” he said. “A lot.”
The stomach cramps returned the next night, and they were followed by frantic vomiting. Kelly, who watched in horror, took the 9-year-old to an emergency room near her house in Crystal Lake. There, Brandon underwent a CT scan. Results showed that he had metal in his stomach, and the Bruskis were sent home to call his pediatrician.
Kelly called, and her pediatrician said he couldn’t do anything. She’d have to take Brandon to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Five months later, that hospital visit has led to Brandon throwing out the first pitch at Sunday's Cubs-Astros game at Wrigley Field.
After arriving at the hospital that day in January, Brandon and Kelly met with a pediatric gastroenterologist, who discovered that the metal pieces were magnets. Two blueberry-sized spheres, pulling at each other within their magnetic fields.
The balls were a pair of potent Buckyballs--magnetic desk toys that Brandon once bought for Kelly’s boyfriend’s birthday. They’d always been stored on a top shelf to keep Kelly’s youngest son, 6-year-old Patrick, out of harm’s way. But when Kelly came home from Advocate, she found that they were missing from that top shelf. Brandon had taken them to school earlier that week.
Somewhere along the way he had swallowed the pair of magnets, which were now burrowing through the walls of his intestines. Brandon was admitted to Advocate on Jan. 11, with doctors thinking that the magnets were going to pass through his intestines and out with his bowels.
“The small intestine magnet created an ulcer, perforating through the small intestine,” Kelly said. “The large intestine had such an infection around it that it was stopping blood movement to the bowels.”
Doctors performed a colonoscopy on Sunday morning, Jan. 13. They decided that the only option was surgery, fast, before the magnets' corrosive actions led to internal bleeding and possible blood poisoning.
Meanwhile, the magnets continued to tug at one another.
“Had [the magnets] actually created a hole in his small intestine, then it would have been an immediate do-or-die kind of surgery,” Kelly said.
Brandon emerged healthy from the lengthy surgery, and he recovered while enduring post-operative pain. Brandon’s case—caused by accidental ingestion of magnets—isn’t an outlier. In November 2011, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report saying that it received over 200 reports of magnet ingestion since 2008. According to the report, over 18 of the 200 children needed emergency surgery to halt damage and retract magnets.
But those numbers are just the ones that are formally reported. Hundreds more incidents occur each year as children and even teenagers play with the misleading culprits, using them to model fake nose and tongue piercings. The result was the CPSC’s push to ban magnets being marketed as toys—and it prevailed. Neodymium magnets, tarnishing spheres such as Buckyballs, are banned by regulatory agencies. Buckyballs itself has been out of business as of last year.
As for Brandon, he returned to North Elementary and caught up on the lessons he missed.
“In science, they were studying magnets,” Kelly said, laughing.
Life returned to normalcy, and that’s when the calls from Advocate came.
A month after Brandon exited the hospital, Advocate had him attend a Bulls game with some parents and their kids who’d also been at the hospital. After that, Brandon joined another group of kids at Wrigley Field to run the bases and play catch.
About a week ago, Kelly received an email from Advocate. The hospital offered Brandon the opportunity to toss the first pitch at today’s Cubs-Astros game.
Kelly went and asked her son who, she thought, might be nervous about standing in front of thousands of fans at Wrigley Field.
“Let me get this straight: I swallow a couple magnets, I almost die, I have surgery, I go to a Bulls game, and now I’m throwing out the first pitch?” Kelly recalled Brandon saying. “What am I, the president?”
Sunday, he will sure feel like one.
The soft-eyed, long-haired sports fanatic is bringing about 20 Bruskis with him to the game. They’ll have seats reserved for them when Brandon is meeting players and hauling autographs. A Yankees and Cubs fan, Brandon is ecstatic to throw the first pitch.
“It feels really good."