Injuries from ingestion of wire bristles from grill-cleaning brushes are common and can lead to long-term swallowing problems and other potentially devastating injuries. Brandy Ogg’s significant other was grilling hamburgers at home last May, when Ogg swallowed what she thought was a piece of beef bone or gristle.
“I felt it lacerate the back of my throat,” she says. “I didn’t consider it an emergency because I could still breathe, but I knew something was really wrong. I inspected the meat and found nothing.”
Ogg, a registered dietitian who lives in The Woodlands, Texas, went to a local otolaryngologist the following day. He could see the injury on the back of her tonsils and told her that this type of trauma is typically caused by fragments from a grill brush. A CT scan showed a foreign object lodged in her throat.
“I could feel it in the side of my throat and was in intermittent pain, but I went on with my life and didn’t let it limit me,” she says. “The ENT I saw didn’t do that type of surgery, so I started searching the internet and found Dr. Karni’s profile online and saw that he had a high level of expertise in the treatment of cancer patients and the use of transoral robotics. I was impressed.”
An associate professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, Ron J. Karni, MD, is chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology and assistant vice president for oncology community programs at the medical school. He also is physician lead of the Memorial Hermann Cancer Accountable Care Organization, one of the region’s first health system Cancer ACOs under the larger Memorial Hermann ACO umbrella.
By the time Ogg saw him in July, the piece of grill brush had migrated from her throat to the side of her neck. Using a handheld ultrasound, Dr. Karni located a metallic foreign body on the left side of her neck, lodged in soft tissues near the carotid artery and jugular vein. He took Ogg to the OR on July 20, 2022, and removed it in a 10-minute surgery.
“A large area of inflammation surrounded the grill brush, but we were able to remove it through a very small incision that I expected to leave a nearly invisible scar when it healed,” Dr. Karni says. “These bristles are sharp with a very thin profile, and they often get impaled on the grill. I advise people who clean with a wire bristle brush to inspect the grill’s surface before cooking and use a moist cloth or paper towel to wipe it thoroughly before cooking.”
Ogg advises people to take any swallowing injury seriously and not wait before seeing an expert. “I had a vacation planned that I had to cancel due to the injury,” she says. “It could have been much worse. Dr. Karni did a great job of finding and removing the bristle.”
For more information on how to grill safely, visit https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/bbq-iq.html.