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Decade-Old Braces Wire Removed From Woman’s Stomach

People swallow some weird things. From teeth to magnets, coins, toothbrushes and, believe it or not, a fidget spinner (swallowed by a ten-year-old girl in Texas), doctors and dentists have seen it all. But a case of swallowed braces wire in Nedlands, Western Australia, is puzzling even the most seasoned medical professionals, thanks to a unique set of circumstances.

When a 30-year-old woman arrived at Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital in Nedlands, Western Australia, complaining of abdominal pain recently, doctors at first suspected gallstones. The pain soon subsided, and the patient was released, only to return two days later with the same pain. Doctors then ordered a CT scan and were shocked to find that it wasn’t gallstones causing the pain, but a long, narrow object (initially believed to be a fish bone) puncturing the woman’s intestines. The object had pierced the intestine in several places, becoming twisted in the organ. This created a serious bowel blockage known as a volvulus, which required emergency surgery to correct.

But it gets weirder. When doctors retrieved the object from the patient’s intestines, they were shocked to find not a fish bone, but a 7-centimeter piece of braces wire that the patient had accidentally and unknowingly swallowed when she got her braces removed - 10 years earlier!

So, how could this happen? Is it really possible to swallow a 7-centimeter wire without realizing it, and if so, is it really possible for it to remain in your stomach for seven years?

Dr. Michele Simpson of Wilmington, North Carolina, says it’s not probable, but definitely possible.

"It’s absolutely possible to swallow a wire that big. That’s not really the surprising part of this story," says Simpson. "To the medical community, what’s puzzling about this case is that the patient has no recollection of swallowing it in the first place."

According to Simpson, it’s easy for patients to occasionally swallow bits of wire or dental debris if they are reclined during their procedure. But a piece of wire so large would be hard to forget if the patient were conscious at the time of ingestion.

Also surprising? That the piece of wire stayed in the woman’s stomach for so long without moving.

"It’s definitely surprising that the wire was in her stomach for so long without being detected or causing a problem sooner," says Simpson. "But most likely due to its weight and shape, it was just sitting there for years undisturbed."

So, what should you do if you believe you’ve swallowed something indigestible?

"You should always call your doctor," says Simpson, "even if you think it's harmless."

According to Simpson, just because you’ve swallowed a foreign object doesn’t mean you’ll require surgery, but there are some things that can be fatal if not removed, like batteries or sharp objects like this wire.

After all, says Simpson, "it’s better to be safe than sorry."

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