SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The number of children swallowing batteries rose significantly during the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Increased hospital visits appear to mirror the increase in devices in our homes using button or disc batteries.

And the batteries babies may be ingesting are more dangerous than ever.

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As with many other toddlers, everything 19 month-old Remi touches goes right in the mouth. In July, mom Megan Hulleman and dad RJ Hulleman of Alton, Iowa, could not have imagined the next chapter of their lives when Remi found the remote control for the ceiling fan.

“She dropped the fan remote, and the two batteries had popped out. I [said], ‘Remi bring them here,’ so she brought them over, and I had put the two batteries up here on our couch,” said Megan.

Before she knew it, Remi had swallowed both of the button batteries. They rushed her to the hospital by ambulance: Remi’s esophagus was starting to swell because the batteries were already corroded and stuck to one another.

“They had to push them back down into the stomach because they could not pull them out, and in doing that, the acid burned her throat,” said RJ.

Pediatric Surgeon Adam Gorra was called in. He says he knew they had to act quickly because acid isn’t the only danger these batteries pose.

“…The electrical charge can cause kind of an electrical burn in the esophagus,” said Dr. Gorra. “This electrical burn extends through the wall of the esophagus over time and within about four hours, you can have permanent damage.”

Dr. Gorra was eventually able to move the batteries into Remi’s stomach where he could surgically remove them.

Button batteries ingested by toddler
Button batteries ingested by toddler (KFOR)

“It was a total of seven and a half hours she was in surgery,” said RJ. “It was the scariest time I’ve ever had.”

Megan says despite how terrifying the situation was, she’d originally figured they’d be in-and-out of the hospital that day.

But it would be eight days before Megan and RJ would get to hold Remi again. She spent weeks in the hospital.

Megan says as a parent, there’s a certain amount of guilt that goes with seeing your child go through something like this. She wants other parents to understand how dangerous button batteries can be for kids.

“It was a freak accident, and I’m thankful we have our daughter, and she is doing amazing, but it is still really hard as a parent to wonder if we could have done something different,” said Megan. “I kind of replay: ‘Maybe we should have put it up higher. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked her up.’ But I can’t go back. But I can try to prevent it from happening again or prevent another family from going through what we had to go through.”

Remmy’s prognosis is good. She’s undergoing procedures to stretch her esophagus so she can eat normal food.

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Dr. Gorra says it’s much safer if the battery makes it all the way to the stomach. A single battery can usually be passed through the body without surgery.