Saturday, October 16th , 2010 was supposed to be a day of celebration. We were going to celebrate our son Emmett’s first birthday with a party for him and for his brother Ethan who was turning three. That morning however, Emmett woke up with a fever and was acting unusual and when his symptoms intensified we felt he needed to be seen by a doctor. My husband Michael took Emmett to the urgent care, where he was diagnosed with either the flu or a possible reaction to recent vaccinations. Over the next two days he became lethargic, was coughing up lots of mucus, had no desire to eat and was unable to sleep. We decided he needed to be seen by his own pediatrician and as we were getting ready, Emmett started vomiting up blood. After hearing Emmett’s symptoms, the pediatrician immediately sent us to the Emergency Department(ED). When we arrived at the ED, Emmett was given two breathing treatments and the physician ordered a chest x-ray. The x-ray showed that an object was lodged in his esophagus! I was shocked because there had been no sign of him choking on anything. The doctor informed us that the object in Emmett's throat was a button battery and that the radiologist could identify the serial number of the battery in the x-ray. I was sick, taken aback, confused, ashamed, embarrassed, lost, angry, sad, hopeless and nervous. I think I felt every negative emotion one could feel. An ambulance rushed us to Phoenix Children's Hospital (PCH) where we met Dr. Egan, a pediatric trauma surgeon. Within 20 minutes of our arrival to PCH, Emmett was rushed into the operating room for the removal of the button battery.
Three hours later Dr. Egan came to inform us of the damage that had been done to Emmett's poor little body. His esophagus was severely burned. Emmett was not able to breathe on his own, so a ventilator was placed for his breathing support. Each day in the Pediatric ICU (PICU) was critical. Emmett was in severe pain which required lots of sedation and pain management. A few days later when the doctors examined his airway they found that the damage was more severe than expected. The battery literally burned a hole through his esophagus into his trachea (airway) allowing his stomach bile to reflux into his lungs. Emmett had a stent placed but unfortunately the procedure was unsuccessful. We felt so hopeless. After the failure of the stent doctors removed two inches of Emmett's esophagus and it was rerouted to come out the side of his neck, called an Esophagastomy. The other end of the esophagus that was attached to the stomach then was stapled shut. The trachea was patched with nearby tissue to close off the airway leak. What was supposed to be a 2 hour surgery turned into a 9 1/2 hour surgery!!
Emmett had a feeding tube (G-tube) placed for his 100% nourishment, since his esophagus was temporarily non-functional. After five weeks in the PICU, Emmett was finally sent home. He required occupational, physical and speech/swallowing therapies each week.
After 5 months of being home Emmett went back to the operating room to have his esophagus reattached. There were many concerns about reattaching the esophagus since two inches had been removed but to all of our amazement, the two ends of the esophagus joined together perfectly. Five days later Emmett’s vital signs became unstable. A test revealed a large leak in his newly repaired esophagus. He was rushed back into the OR where multiple surgeons consulted on what to do. Because this was such a rare case physicians from out of state where contacted, and together they devised a plan to repair Emmett's throat.
After many ups and downs, by the end of March we were able to bring Emmett home. Unfortunately we soon discovered that he could not tolerate the formula that he was being given via G-tube. He was vomiting up the majority of his meals and also eventually developed pneumonia.
On June 7th, 2011, a new fistula (hole) was discovered. The hole, however, was not in the original location; it was in a completely new location. The physicians believe that the damage was created when the button battery was ingested, but the tissue did not give way until Emmett started vomiting.
On July 20th, Emmett went back into the operating room where they successfully removed the damaged section of the esophagus. It continues to slowly heal.
On July 20th, Emmett went back into the operating room. The plan was to remove the damaged section of the esophagus. A section of his stomach would replace the missing portion. The trachea was patched to prevent further leaking. The rest of Emmett's stomach was wrapped around the base of the esophagus to prevent refluxing. The surgery lasted 10 hours. It was a very long day for everyone! After a few months Emmett was sent home require 100% oxygen support.
Emmett made it home for his second birthday! We celebrated with family and dear friends. We enjoyed every moment that we had home together as a family under one roof. Not long after, Emmett ended back in the PICU due to respiratory distress. The visit at PCH lasted for about 3 weeks. Our Emmett was sent home and we were delighted. After months and months of sleepless nights, Emmett’s Pulmonologist Dr Rao suggested we open our home to have nursing care at night for Emmett. I broke down in tears, exhausted from many awakening night’s trying to sleep in a rocking chair near his crib. Michael and I hoped that having a home health nurse would be able to help keep Emmett home from the hospital.
Two weeks later, Emmett went into extreme respiratory distress and was Air Evaced to PCH. Emmett’s tiny fragile body seemed to be getting weaker and weaker as the weeks went on. He was working so hard to breath and he could not gain weight or build up a reserve for his body.
Michael and I called for a Multidisciplinary Care Conference. The verdict was to place a Tracheostomy. Emmett was incapable of breathing on his own. The Trach was placed. Michael and I instantly recognized a change in our little boy, he could BREATH!
Emmett was sent home two weeks later right before Christmas with his new Trach and a ventilator system. The ventilator would give the lungs and body rest so Emmett would be able sleep restfully. Emmett was hospital FREE for one entire year! It was a miracle.
During that year Emmett was able to learn how to walk, jump, play, go on a vacation and enjoy sleeping in his own bed. His medical care did not stop. Emmett’s reconstructed esophagus continued to provide issues, requiring Emmett to undergo esophagus dilation under anesthesia every three weeks. The esophagus was not improving and he was continuing to damage his lungs due to aspiration of his own saliva. Emmett’s wonderful Phoenix Children’s Hospital Team decided it was time for a second opinion and referred us to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. CCH has an advanced Aerodigestive Center which studies and treats critical Airway, Esophagus and Lung issues and diseases.
Emmett was an appropriate candidate for the program. After two visit’s to Ohio and many scopes, testing and consulting with the physician’s; Cincinnati decided that Emmett’s entire esophagus needed to be removed and replaced with a portion of his bowel. The surgery is unique and has only been performed 150 times over the last 30 years in pediatrics. Cincinnati was the place to have it performed. Michael and I prayed and felt that this was the best option for Emmett’s and his future. The surgery date was set for December 6, 2012. Emmett was expected to be hospitalized for four to six weeks post operation. The surgery lasted for 14 hours! Emmett was taken up to the Pediatric ICU at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to recover. Emmett’s recovery was steady! He began healing at a rapid rate having no infections or leakage at the surgical sights. Emmett was able to come home two days before Christmas making his recovery time only two and one half weeks post operation. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Emmett continues to recover today and has many unknowns to come. He is a fighter and as his family we will continue fight along with him.
We feel it is our mission to tell Emmett's story and to spread awareness of the dangers of button batteries. The swallowing of this tiny battery has turned our world upside down!! It has been a little over a year since his accident and we are still trying to repair the damage that was done and fight for Emmett to survive. Let this be an eye opener to everyone! These tiny batteries are so prevalent in our daily lives and will continue to be so, as technology continues to advance and electronics continue to get smaller. It is more than just putting the items out of arms reach. Secure them with strong tape or super glue. Please do what you can. Help us spread the awareness!!!