A 4-year-old boy is in recovery after surgeons at Cincinnati Children's Hospital removed part of his rib and used it to rebuild his throat, which was severely damaged by ingesting a small battery.
Emmett Rauch swallowed a button battery from a TV remote control. The quarter-sized battery lodged in his throat, burning a hole in his esophagus.
The injury left him unable to breath, eat or speak on his own. He needs a trach tube to breathe. He's fed primarily through a stomach tube. The injury paralyzed his vocal cords. Even though he can make noise, he's not able to speak.
Rauch underwent a rib-graft surgery on Wednesday and is now in recovery. The procedure is used to spread the vocal cords apart, which not only allows them to act properly, but also creates an airway passage.
A hospital spokesperson said the surgery lasted just more than three hours and went as planned.
"This will be a major step in helping little Emmett be a normal boy," says Dr. Alessandro de Alarcon. "If all goes well, the trach tube will be removed within the next year. He wants to play soccer, so we think he'll be able to do that and play other sports if he wants, which is important for his childhood development."
Dr. de Alarcon says Emmett will deal with many lifelong issues as a result of his button-battery injury. While he is able to eat food again, his rebuilt throat doesn't act as effectively and efficiently as a normal esophagus. And as Emmett starts to speak, his voice will likely sound breathy and be somewhat raspy.
Approximately two years ago at Cincinnati Children's, Dr. Daniel von Allmen led a rare surgery in which part of the Emmett's colon was used to repair the hole in his esophagus, which has allowed him to regain the ability to eat food through his mouth.
"He's undergone extensive swallow therapy to learn how to eat," says his mother, Karla Rauch. "He is a champ now. The esophagus surgery changed his and our lives." But he still gets most of his nourishment through the stomach feeding tube.
Wednesday's rib-graft will hopefully allow Emmett to prepare for his next big step in life.
"The airway surgery will be preparing him to go to mainstream school next year – kindergarten," says Karla. "He will start voice therapy where he will learn to adapt to his newly repaired vocal cords. It will also give him a safe and secure airway.
Another major milestone will be removing the trach tube. When that will happen is not clear. It could be anywhere from a month to a year after surgery or even later.
Emmett turns five years old on October 16.
Karla Rauch has launched a website called emmettsfight.com. to raise awareness about the dangers of button batteries.