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Congress passes bill named for toddler who died after swallowing a battery

Trista Hamsmith/Reese’s Purpose

(WASHINGTON) — A bill designed to help keep young children safe by strengthening safety requirements for products with button batteries has passed both the U.S. House and Senate, and is now headed to the desk of President Joe Biden.

The legislation, known as Reese’s Law, is named for Reese Hamsmith, an 18-month-old Lubbock, Texas, girl who died after swallowing a button battery, the small, round batteries found in many home devices and toys.

After her death, Reese’s mom Trista Hamsmith made it her mission to ensure no other parent had to suffer the pain and loss her family did.

“Reese’s life was taken way too soon, but her legacy will live on through this law so that no other family will have to suffer like ours,” Hamsmith said in a statement after the bill was passed by the Senate. “We are thankful for the passage of this legislation to help protect all children and families from the hidden dangers of button batteries.”

Reese was 16 months old in October 2020 when she developed cold-like symptoms, including a stuffy nose, Hamsmith told “Good Morning America” last year.

Hamsmith said and her husband took their daughter to see a pediatrician, who she said suspected Reese had croup, an infection of the upper airways, and prescribed steroids.

Shortly after, the family discovered a button battery was missing from a remote control in their home. After looking online and discovering that symptoms of button battery ingestion — including coughing, wheezing and chest discomfort — matched those of Reese, Hamsmith said she and her husband rushed Reese to the emergency room.

An X-ray confirmed that a battery was lodged near the top of Reese’s esophagus.

After spending six weeks hospitalized and undergoing various surgeries and attempts to try to save her life, Reese died on Dec. 17, 2020, according to Hamsmith.

Hamsmith calls button batteries a “hidden danger” because they are used in many items, including remotes, hearing aids, thermometers, tealight candles, battery-powered jewelry, greeting cards, key fobs, kids’ toys and even toothbrushes.

After Reese died, Hamsmith created a nonprofit organization, Reese’s Purpose, to educate parents about button battery safety and to try to create change around how button batteries are protected in packaging and in the items in which they are found.

“It literally takes one second [for button battery ingestion to happen],” she told “GMA” last year. “You can set your kid down, turn around and pick up a piece of laundry, and it’s happened.”

Under Reese’s Law, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would be required to create safety standards, such as requiring companies to use product warning labels, childproof packaging and adhere to performance standards to ensure that children under the age of 6 cannot access button batteries, according to the office of Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and a lead sponsor of the legislation.

“Kids like Reese Hamsmith have tragically died or been severely injured after swallowing this small but deadly hazard found in common household items,” Blumenthal and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican and lead sponsor of the bill, said in a joint statement. “We are relieved this common-sense legislation has passed Congress and is on its way to President Biden’s desk to become law so families can have greater peace of mind about the safety of products in their home.”

More than 3,500 people swallow button batteries each year in the U.S., according to the National Capital Poison Center.

Dr. Kris Jatana, a professor in the department of otolaryngology at Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said his research shows the actual number of button battery ingestions each year is actually much larger because the incidents are vastly underreported.

In the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a 93% increase in emergency department visits for battery-related complaints in school-age children, according to research by Jatana, who helped create the GIRC App, a global database by the Global Injury Research Collaborative for medical professionals to track the severity of injuries, including from button batteries.

“I do think there is a lack of awareness among parents that these are severe hazards,” he told “GMA” last year. “We can’t fix the injuries that these batteries cause, so that’s what’s led us to [ask], ‘How can we prevent these injuries in the first place?'”

Here are three tips from Jatana and Hamsmith to both prevent and treat button battery ingestion injuries.

1. Keep an inventory of button batteries in your home: Because the symptoms of button battery ingestion can mimic the symptoms of other illnesses in kids, as was the case with Reese, both Hamsmith and Jatana say the most important thing for parents and caregivers is to always be aware of and know about the presence of all the button batteries in their home.

Hamsmith’s advice to caregivers is to keep products that contain button batteries not just out of reach but also out of sight of children, especially those ages 6 and under, who are most at risk for swallowing a foreign object.

Jatana said to not only know where the button batteries are in your home, but to also to regularly check all electronic devices to make sure the battery compartment is secured.

2. Know the symptoms: Symptoms of swallowing a button battery may include fever, not wanting to eat or drink, irritability, wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, throat pain, choking, gagging, problems swallowing and vomiting, according to a button battery resource website created by Jatana and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Children may also put a button battery in their nose or ear, which can present dangers. Symptoms to look for include irritability, pain or swelling around the ears or nose, fever and fluid drainage or bleeding from the ears or nose, according to Jatana.

Children who ingest button batteries may also present no symptoms at all, which is why parents and caregivers should know the whereabouts of button batteries in their home at all times, Jatana added.

3. Act quickly: Serious esophageal injury can occur within two hours of a child ingesting a button battery, before symptoms even start, according to Jatana.

“The clock is ticking from the moment the battery is lodged in the esophagus,” he said.

If a child ingests a button battery, immediately call for help, either through 911 or the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Parents and caregivers may also use honey to treat the child while waiting for medical help. Experts from the National Capital Poison Center recommend giving 10 milliliters of honey every 10 minutes to children 12 months and older.

Jatana stressed not to delay going to the emergency room and said seeking professional medical help should be the top priority.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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