Justin MacNair stepped out of the room for just a moment, but when he returned his then 4-year-old stepson, Peyton, was crying a bit. He said he swallowed something and it was stuck in his throat. When MacNair’s wife, Jessica, peered into Peyton’s mouth, she realized what he swallowed and how dangerous it was.

“I looked in the back of his throat and saw two magnets stuck together, one on each side of his uvula,” the 30-year-old science teacher from Greenwood, Indiana, told TODAY.

Next she noticed the rest of the small, round magnetic balls were missing. When she couldn’t find them, she realized what had happened: Peyton swallowed them. They rushed to the local emergency room.

“He already had the two in his throat and there is a good chance he swallowed more than one and I knew that it was trouble,” she said. “They could tear through tissue and the body.”

MacNair is sharing Peyton’s experience to help other parents understand how hazardous neodymium magnets are.

“Most people don’t realize the dangers of swallowing magnets,” she said. “It can happen to anyone and it can happen in a split second.”


Last September, Peyton was playing with his brother’s magnets with his dad and brother. Often, he made a long snake from the magnets: He loved how they attached to one another and slithered. Peyton, now 6, has autism and sometimes acts a little younger than his age, his mom explained.

For one scary moment, doctors couldn't see the magnets in Peyton's stomach and thought they had slipped back into his small intestine. They pulled the camera back and realized they were stuck to the scope but still in the stomach.
For one scary moment, doctors couldn’t see the magnets in Peyton’s stomach and thought they had slipped back into his small intestine. They pulled the camera back and realized they were stuck to the scope but still in the stomach. Courtesy Jessica MacNair

As Peyton was playing, Justin MacNair received a call and stepped out of the room. Peyton’s brother, who was 9 at the time, ran to the bathroom. When MacNair returned after only a few minutes, Peyton was “whimpering” and “whining” about something in his throat. He later told his mom he was pretending to eat spaghetti and she assumes the magnet snake, turned into a magnet snack, that he dangled over his mouth.

As soon as they arrived at the local hospital, doctors took an X-ray and confirmed that 25 magnets were in his stomach in addition to the two clamped to his uvula. Doctors needed to act fast: If the magnets passed into the intestines, doctors might have to operate to remove them. He was transferred to Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis where doctors took another set of X-rays to confirm they hadn’t moved.

“It would be very easy for some magnets to be pushed (into the small bowel) and separated from the others,” she said. “That is when the others would be attracted and (magnetize) through the tissue.”

Dr. Michael Foreman, a gastroenterologist who treated Peyton, agreed that the danger of these tiny high-powered magnets is that they are still attracted to one another inside the body. If one gets caught in a mucosal fold (a fold in any mucous membrane in the body) it could pull through tissue to attach to another magnet in a different fold.

“These neodymium magnets, even if they are small, they can be really powerful. The size does not have anything to do with how powerful they are,” he told TODAY. “They have a strong pull.”

If they attract toward each other in the stomach or the intestine they can create a gap.