HOUSTON -- When 2-year-old Ava Kendall's father was in Sweden as an exchange student, before she was born, he was gifted some small magnetic balls, the size of BB pellets. They could be fashioned into different shapes.
Two weeks ago, the toddler was able to find a way to reach them on the refrigerator. Silver and small, they resemble cake and cookie decorations. She swallowed nine of them.
It went undetected until Ava began screaming, clutching her stomach. When her mother couldn't comfort her, she knew something was wrong.
A diagnosis at a free standing clinic stated the child had a bad stomach flu. Mom Lexi Kendall didn't accept that. She took her daughter to Texas Children's Hospital in the Medical Center. A scan revealed Ava had nine pellets in her intestine.
"Magnets find each other, even though skin," Kendall said. "They had burrowed in her intestines, creating holes."
Her daughter has endured surgery to repair the tears and bring the infection under control.
"She's been fighting to live," her mother said.
The magnets were banned in recent years by the Consumer Product Safety Commission because of children ingesting them, thinking they were a toy. TCH has seen previous cases as well. The Kendalls had never before heard of the problem.
Ava is improving, though she remains in intensive care. Breathing tubes have been removed. She's now alert enough to hear her parents sing "Let It Go" to her.
For Lexi Kendall and her husband, it's been a hard-learned lesson about the danger, and she's passing it on to other parents.
"Don't have any magnets," she said. "If you have magnets, get them away. On top of a bookshelf or refrigerator isn't enough."
A GoFundMe account to help with Ava's medical bills has been set up.