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In late October, Texas mom Trista Hamsmith took her 17-month-old daughter, Reese, to visit a pediatrician after she noticed some irregularities with her breathing. While the doctor suspected a common case of croup, the situation was ultimately, far more serious.
After returning home, assured by her doctor that Reese was most likely experiencing something common amongst children her age, Hamsmith noticed a button battery missing from her remote. She rushed Reese to the emergency room, dreading that the real cause behind her one-year-old's symptoms was due to swallowing a battery.
The doctors confirmed Hamsmith's fear soon after their arrival. Reese had swallowed a button battery that had begun burning a hole in her esophagus.
“They did an X-ray and confirmed that it was in there and they did emergency surgery to remove the battery,” Hamsmith told TODAY.
Despite her surgeon's best efforts to remove the battery, Reese was unable to properly recover from the injury and died on Dec. 17, 2020.
“This story needs to be told,” Hamsmith added. “It didn’t have to happen.”
Hamsmith has since launched an organization called "Reese's Purpose" to raise awareness and advocate for safer battery manufacturing. She has been sharing updates via the "Pray for Reese Hamsmith" Facebook page.
In an interview with TODAY, Dr. Emily Durkin, who was not Reese's doctor, children swallowing button batteries is an unfortunate, but common occurrence that can have serious repercussions.
“If you get a narrow, flat, pancake-like button battery that gets stuck at one of these natural narrowings, then the front wall of the esophagus collapses against the button battery and the back wall,” Durkin explained. “[This] completes that circuit, and electric current actually flows through the esophageal tissues. And when that happens, it starts to kill the tissues at the burn. It can be just a devastating injury for a child. It can require operations and having to be fed with a tube.”
Hamsmith revealed that initially, Reese's prognosis seemed hopeful after she underwent surgery to remove to retrieve the battery. Reese was able to go home in late October, but was taken back to the emergency room when her health began to decline.
“We found out that a fistula had been created, which is like a passageway,” Hamsmith explained. “There was a hole burned through her trachea and through her esophagus. When that tunnel formed, it was allowing air to go where it didn’t need to be. Food and drinks also went where they didn’t need to go.”
Reese received a gastronomy tube so that she could be fed and nourished by bypassing the hole.
“The surgery went great and then from there it was just more waiting, more resting, more healing,” she said. “A few weeks later they tried to take her off the ventilator and she did great.”
Hamsmith said things began to go awry when she returned to her daughters room after stepping away briefly.
“I heard them say, ‘Starting compressions,’ and she was gone for about eight to ten minutes,” she said. “We were able to get her back. Ultimately they said she wasn’t strong enough yet.”
Doctors attempted to give Reese a tracheostomy to help her breathe.
“It was terrifying for me,” Hamsmith recalled. “But I was also excited that we were just one step closer to getting her back and having her awake again.”
The surgery went seemingly well at first, but three days later Reese was struggling to breathe again and her vitals were plummetting.
“I started praying. She coded again. They did CPR, all of the things, for about 30 to 40 minutes,” Hamsmith said. “I had never prayed so hard in my life or begged God like that. We just didn’t get her back.”
Just a few short months since Reese's death, Hamsmith is taking action to raise awareness, and hopefully, prevent a similar story from happening to another family.
“We just need safer batteries” she said. "Kids are dying. We’ve got to do everything we can to get this information to parents and put pressure on the industry to make changes to protect the kids.”
"The button batteries that are the most dangerous are typically the ones that are about the size of a nickel or a quarter,” Durkin said in agreement. “Those are the ones that I think shouldn't be made.”