The body of a human is absolutely miraculous. It has an unbelievable way of being able to adapt to its environment. Sometimes its ability to adapt even surprises medical experts. This is exactly what happened to a British man when a mysterious object lodged itself into his lungs.
Paul thought he was facing his worst nightmare when he saw an x-ray of his lungs. He knew it could be cancer, so he asked his doctors to figure out what was going on. Soon the doctors discovered something unexpected. It was so unreal that it was actually reported in the British Medical Journal.
Paul Baxter lives in Lancashire, England, working as a postman and as a father. Paul went to the doctor three years ago, with complaints of an ongoing cough. He worked very hard and didn’t really pay attention to his health, but the cough had been bothering him for almost a year. But the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
Even after the doctors did some tests, they couldn’t find the cause of his cough. So they decided to do a lung x-ray. Paul was 47 years old, after all, a time where serious health problems could begin to arise. His worst fears seemed to be confirmed when the doctors showed him the scans.
A dark massed could be seen at the bottom of his left lung. Considering Paul had been a heavy smoker for a long time, he knew it could be cancer. Doctors couldn’t confirm that, though, with just the scan. They would have to do more in depth tests to find out what it really was. Paul got ready for the procedure, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
Dr. Mohammed Munavvar, Paul’s doctor, performed a bronchoscopy. A procedure where they slowly push a fiber optic scope down the throat into the lungs. It’s a low-risk procedure, but Paul was given anti-anxiety and anti-secretory medications. As soon as Dr. Munavvar guided the scope towards Paul’s lung, he knew something was wrong.
It was revealed that the mass in Paul’s lung was not a tumor. But the doctors had no idea what it was. They had never seen something like it before. It was dark orange and smaller than a penny. They realized it was a foreign object, but that just gave them more questions. It would have to be taken out to get some answers.
Paul was instantly relieved when he found out that it wasn’t a tumor. But he quickly realized that a foreign object in his lung brought about a whole new set of risks. Doctors would have to use forceps to get it out. They would only need to use a local anesthesia, so Paul was awake during the whole thing. He was not expecting what they would find inside him.
The procedure was going along really well. As soon as the doctors took out the object and realized what it was, something unbelievable happened. “Everyone in the room just laughed,” remembered Paul. They found a tiny plastic cone in his lung. Instantly, memories came rushing back to Paul.
For Paul’s seventh birthday, forty years earlier, he had gotten a Playmobil traffic police set. The playset came with three tiny orange traffic cones. One of those cones ended up in Paul’s lung. “It has come out in perfect working order, you can even still see the markings,” he said. How in the world did it get there, though?
Paul’s doctors wrote, “Following the procedure, the patient reported that he regularly played with and even swallowed pieces of Playmobil during his childhood.” But this was more than just a kid swallowing something he shouldn’t. “I have been told that I must have inhaled it for it to go into my windpipe,” said Paul. How could that have been in there for 40 years without him knowing it?
Experts concluded that because Paul was so young when he inhaled it, his airways simply adapted by growing around it. This explains why it took so long for Paul to develop any kind of symptoms. It all turned out alright, but this is certainly not a normal occurrence.
“I have never come across something quite this extraordinary before,” said Dr. Munavvar. This case was so strange that it was written about in a report in the British Medical Journal. “To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of a tracheobronchial foreign body that was overlooked for 40 years,” read the medical report. Even though it was rare, Paul’s lungs were able to return to normal.
It only took four months of recovery for Paul’s cough to be completely gone and he felt better than ever. He was even able to keep the tiny cone as a souvenir. Everyone that was involved with Paul, including the authors of the journal, laughed about the crazy incident. But all of the incidents like this don’t always turn out like Paul’s.
The Playmobil sets are actually designed for children from four to ten years old. Paul was seven at the time he inhaled the cone, which meant the toy was age appropriate for him. But it still ended up in his lungs. Does that mean all of Playmobil’s sets are unsafe for kids?
Prior to the 1990s, there were no requirements for toy makers to put a choking hazard warning on toys with small parts. This happened to Paul in the 60s, so it’s very likely that his parents didn’t know of the possible danger. Even with today’s regulations, we still see stories of children that put small toys in their nose and mouth. It’s up to the parents to remember that small children should never be left alone.