Great Creative Medicine: Magnets Save Newborn From Big Surgery

Posted on August 8, 2012


We need this kind of innovative thinking more often!  Back in 2009, as John Bonifield writes for CNN, a baby boy was born with a hard membrane forming a potentially fatal intestinal blockage:  rectal atresia.  Without a way to pass stool, the baby would die.  A temporary colostomy was performed, but now the child faced a complicated, risky and invasive surgery to correct the blockage.

And then, a rare stroke of insight, an actual creative idea, and – what’s more – a common-sense approach by the hospital administration and even the insurance company!  Dr. Eric Scaife reasoned that small, powerful magnets are a hazard to children precisely because they can click together in the digestive tract, applying pressure and creating holes.   And a hole in this membrane is exactly what was desired.  All they had to do was insert one magnet on each side of the blockage.  If the idea worked, how much easier and safer it would be than the standard surgery!

In all medicine, something which is dangerous when applied indiscriminately can be lifesaving in the hands of a trained surgeon.  Dr. Scaife weighed the consequences of failure: what would happen if the magnets didn’t work, or if they created a hole that they weren’t supposed to?  Answer:  the treatment in that case was no different from the surgery that the child already faced:  large incisions and surgical repair of the intestine.  There was nothing to lose.

And it worked like a charm!  If you have ever had run-ins with doctors, hospitals or insurance companies on treatments “outside the box, this will blow your mind.  It was so simple and common-sense, it almost defies the imagination.  The doctor and parents went shopping for magnets.  Literally.  The parents ended up buying industrial-strength, appropriately sized magnets online.  Dr. Scaife maneuvered them into position with the help of x-ray imaging, and a week later, voila!  No more blockage!

Dr. Scaife is the first to admit that this did not go through “formal channels.”  But it made sense to him, to his colleagues, to the baby’s parents – and, wouldn’t you know it, it actually worked.  There still is such a thing a good old common sense after all, not to mention imagination, creativity and innovation in medicine.  Kudos to Dr. Scaife!

And – amazingly to my mind – the insurance company covered the cost of this highly experimental procedure.  And that’s more common sense:  it saved the insurance company the cost of a big, risky surgery, too!

See the full article and photos at