On Christmas Eve, Hughie McMahon lay tucked in his bed, excited for the big day tomorrow. He spent his evening with his parents, Christine McDonald and Hugh McMahon watching Christmas movies and drinking hot chocolate.
The toddler, who was born 12 May 2020, was his usual happy self but when just as his parents were about to turn off the lights, their little boy went completely limp.
Rattling sound from his chest
His parents could hear a rattling sound from his chest and immediately called emergency services. Moments later, he started to bleed. Hughie was rushed to Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
At the hospital, doctors were baffled by Hughie’s condition but they discovered his blood had turned acidic and was unable to clot. His liver and kidneys were damaged, his heart was inflamed, his lungs had collapsed.
No one understood why. All they knew at this stage was that Hughie would require immediate surgery.
On Christmas morning, instead of spending time in front of the Christmas tree with his parents, Hughie was prepped for a 12-hour surgery. His heartbroken parents spent the next 12 hours waiting for news that their boy would be okay. They never received this.
Hughie would not recover
Instead, after the surgery, on Christmas Day evening, a doctor came up to them with tears in his eyes and told them their boy would not recover.
The surgeon had found a small button battery that Hughie had seemingly ingested. It had become lodged in his oesophagus and burned a hole right through his heart.
A living hell
The damage to his organs was immense and there was nothing more they could do.
He passed away the next day, December 26th 2021, surrounded by friends and family and in the arms of his parents. He was 17 months old.
It’s a living hell. I felt my boy leaving. There’s no words on this planet to describe so much pain,” his parents said.
Missing button battery found in toy
Hugh and Christine returned home without their son in unimaginable pain and many unanswered questions. Where did Hughie get the battery from? How could this have happened? How can a toddler have access to such a dangerous item?
He was a happy, healthy, beautiful baby boy … I’m angry that I’ve been robbed of my son.”
Upon returning home, the parents realised that an LR44 alkaline button battery was missing from a £16 VTech Swing & Sing monkey teddy. Instructions online say the battery compartment is kept shut with a screw and can only be opened with a screwdriver.
However, it appears Hughie was able to open the compartment and managed to swallow the battery without his parents knowing.
The product also adds this warning: “This product contains a button or coin cell battery. A swallowed button or coin cell battery can cause internal chemical burns in as little as two hours and lead to death.”
Nobody warned us
Like so many parents, Christine and Hugh were unaware of how dangerous button batteries can be and are horrified that an object like this is used in children’s toys.
Nobody warned us about button batteries. I didn’t even know what they were but they’re in everything. I was more worried about bleach, falling downstairs and bumping heads.”
Call for laws to change
Christine and Hugh buried their boy in January 2022 and have now joined the fight to change the law around button batteries. They also share their story of their loving son to help spread awareness and remind other parents that button batteries can and do kill.
Hughie isn’t the first child to have lost his life due to a button battery. We’ve shared several other heartbreaking stories of children under four who have swallowed a button battery including Gold Coast toddler, Brittney, four-year-old Summer Steer, Melbourne tot, Isabella Rees and two-year-old Harper-Lee.
What’s being done?
At this stage, in Australia button batteries are still sold and used in several common household objects including toys, watches, remotes, etc.
The ACCC made a giant step in the right direction, launching their ‘Tiny batteries, Big danger’ safety campaign to remind parents of the dangers of button batteries.
You can read all about the dangers of button batteries and how to keep your kids safe when using products with them in our previous articles:
Under the new mandatory safety and information standards, products must have secure battery compartments to prevent children from gaining access to the batteries.
Manufacturers must also undertake compliance testing to demonstrate batteries are secure, supply higher risk batteries in child-resistant packaging, and place additional warnings and emergency advice on packaging and instructions.
Be button battery aware
However, there are still instances when these compartments can fail.
As a parent of a toddler, I tend to do one simple thing – if a product requires a button battery, I don’t buy it. If anyone brings a button battery into the home, I bin it.
Although they are still allowed o the shelves, they are not permitted in my home. End. Of. Story.
Our hearts break for Hughie’s family and the several other families who have lost their babies because of button batteries.