All because of a household item.
The medical journey for 5-year-old Emmett Rauch has consumed nearly his entire life. But Emmett is now on the soccer field — and eating and talking again after enduring 65 surgeries. In 2010, when barely 1, he swallowed a five cent piece sized, lithium battery from a DVD remote, burning his oesophagus and closing off his airway. You may recall reading about Emmett’s fight to recover last summer when surgeons rebuilt his oesophagus using part of his colon, and opened his paralysed vocal chords. In December 2014, he had his tracheostomy tube removed, and now everyone, including Emmett, is breathing easier.
Emmett’s fight to live turned his mother, Karla Rauch, into an activist to spread awareness about the dangers of button, coin and cell batteries. Each year, more than 3,500 kids are treated in emergency rooms — and 15 have died in the last six years — after swallowing the tiny objects.
Emmett had just had his first birthday. It was a Saturday, and we noticed he had a fever and was coughing, but there had been no choking episode. The doctor said it was just a cold and had to run its course. But he was lethargic and crying every time he tried to eat.
On the following Tuesday, when Emmett coughed and blood came up, we called the paediatrician. I was freaking out. She said it sounded like croup and sent us home. But as I was walking to the car, the paediatrician came out and said, ‘I have this feeling — send him to the ER'.
They took an X-ray and when the radiologist came out, he said it was a button battery. He could even read the battery’s serial number. Emmett was rushed by ambulance to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I remember running as I signed the consent form.
After a three-hour surgery, the surgeon said it looked like a ‘firecracker had gone off’ in Emmett’s oesophagus. It was lodged a centimetre above the aorta and they couldn’t tell if he’d survive. At that moment, we fell apart. How did we not know? And where did he get the battery?
It was a scary night. His heart stopped and they revived him. The battery had come from the remote control from our DVD player. The back had just popped right off.
Emmett lived in the Intensive Care Unit for eight months in 2011, and there were times when we thought he would pass away. It was very humbling to watch him, because he has this fighting spirit. He stole the hearts of all the nurses and doctors with his beautiful smile.