University of Michigan doctors remove metal grill brush bristle from woman's throat
'I feel like I owe them my life,' patient says
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It was supposed to be a simple backyard cookout.
Linda and Chuck Pelham of Hillsdale, Michigan, were having family over for dinner.
Before the guests arrived, Chuck Pelham cleaned the grill with their grill brush.
"We were going to grill steaks, and I wanted a hot dog," Linda Pelham said.
"She wanted it burnt," explained Chuck Pelham. "I don't know why people like 'em burnt, but she wanted it burnt, so I just threw it on the grill."
The immediately realized something isn't right.
"I took one bite of my hot dog and instantly felt something in my throat," Linda Pelham said. "Just stabbing, stabbing, searing pain."
"I thought, 'Well she's got something lodged in her throat,' so we tried to get it out of her throat," Chuck Pelham said.
Chuck did the Heimlich maneuver, but Linda could still feel something in her throat.
In the emergency room, a doctor scoped her throat but didn't find anything.
Days later, the situation got even worse.
"I woke up in the middle of the night, and my throat was so swollen, I could hardly swallow or breathe," Linda Pelham said.
An X-ray finally reveals a wire lodged in her throat. The Pelhams were stunned to discover, it's from their metal grill brush.
"My buddy and I went back and looked at our grill and you could see them. We took a little magnet and ran it over the edges of the grill, and it picked several of them up," Chuck Pelham said.
"I was flabbergasted. I could not believe so many of those wires had broken off from the brush," Linda Pelham said.
They know what it is, but no doctor Linda Pelham sees can get it out.
"He told me I would just have to live with it in there. He couldn't find it," remembered Linda Pelham.
After months of pain and persistence, she was finally referred to the University of Michigan.
Physician assistant Brian Kilbarger was immediately concerned by Pelham's CT scan.
"I'm worried that I may be seeing this wire that's very close to a major blood vessel in her neck," Kilbarger said.
He consulted with ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Mark Prince, the chair of otolaryngology at Michigan Medicine.
"Wire bristles from these brushes are a particular problem because they're very fine and they're very sharp," Prince said. "So they're hard to see if you just look in there, and they're even somewhat difficult to see even on an X-ray."
When Prince and Kilbarger compared the previous scans to new images, the problem became clear.
"The wire bristle had migrated across the back of her neck, sort of back of her throat, to lie up against the carotid artery, and so we could see it sitting there," Prince said.
That position raised the risk of surgery. Then another scan showed the bristle had moved again to a less dangerous position.
"We were able to do a much simpler operation for her," Prince said.
"I felt so much better instantly, just instantly," Pelham said. "I just cannot thank both of them enough. I feel like I owe them my life."
It's a case neither Prince nor Kilbarger will soon forget.
"There's relief for the patient because with these little tiny foreign bodies, I'm always anxious that you would do something and not be able to find it or remove it, and Linda had been suffering for such a long period of time, that we really didn't want that to happen," Prince said. "She made the effort to take a couple of extra steps to really have the problem solved, and people should never be worried about asking for another opinion or if they're not feeling comfortable, seeing somebody else when they have a problem."
"Very proud, very proud," Kilbarger said. "This is one of those things that nobody was willing to listen to her. Nobody was willing to help her. And our team of providers at Michigan Medicine were able to really make a huge impact."
Linda Pelham is now fully recovered. Her advice to other patients is simple.
"Be very persistent and find the right doctor," Pelham said.
The Pelhams don't use a metal brush anymore, and they've taken an extra step for safety.
"We don't ever lay anything right on the grill itself. We use copper mats or the aluminum foil," Pelham said. "We still grill out a lot. I haven't been able to eat a hot dog yet, but we do grill out a lot."
Chuck Pelham keeps the photo of the actual bristle that Linda swallowed on his phone to show people when they share Linda's story. They want to warn others.
"Our brush was fairly new. It was maybe two or three months old," Linda Pelham said.
"I just want to get the message out there that this is a possibility. I'm not going to say that it's going to happen to you the very next time that you clean your grill off, but it could happen," Chuck Pelham said.
Hear from the people involved in the story on what they now use to clean their grills:
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