‘They found a wire sticking out of my colon’: Cibolo woman warns about bristle grill brushes

Coil brushes, pumice stone, foil, onion can be used to clean grates

When Judy Heickman ordered steak at a restaurant last month, she got something off-menu. Now’s she’s warning others about the hidden danger of using wire bristle brushes to clean grills.
When Judy Heickman ordered steak at a restaurant last month, she got something off-menu. Now’s she’s warning others about the hidden danger of using wire bristle brushes to clean grills.

CIBOLO – When Judy Heickman ordered steak at a restaurant last month, she got something off-menu. Now’s she’s warning others about the hidden danger of using wire bristle brushes to clean grills.

“I woke up in excruciating pain, couldn’t move,” the Cibolo woman said. “My abdomen swelled up huge.”

She thought she’d caught a terrible virus, but a trip to her doctor and a CT scan revealed something strange.

“They found a wire sticking out of my colon,” Heickman said. “When he told me, I was stunned. He said, ‘you ingested a wire.’ How can I ingest a wire?”

The culprit, she said, was wire bristle brush used to clean grills. The CDC and safety advocates warn that the bristles can come loose and stick to the grill and then become stuck and difficult to see on the food.

An estimated 1700 Americans went to emergency rooms between 2002 and 2014, according to a study published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

It’s not common, but can be serious. The wire, typically about an inch long, can get stuck in the mouth or esophagus or worse.

“They may lodge into the wall of the stomach or intestine or possibly even go through the wall, and that can lead to abscess and other problems that require surgical intervention,” said Dr. Ralph Riviello, chair of University Hospital and UT Health Emergency Medicine.

Judy required emergency surgery to remove the wire that punctured her colon.

“I’m now starting to feel pretty much myself,” she said.

There are alternatives to cleaning a grill instead of a metal bristle brush. Coil metal brushes or pumice stones are two options. Safety advocates say you can also carefully wipe down warm grates with crumpled aluminum foil or even a half of a onion.

If you do use a bristle brush, it’s important to inspect it often and discard it when it begins to show wear.

Heickman quit using a bristle grill brush years ago and she’d like restaurants to do the same. Now, she’s warning others that when you eat grilled food, there could be a hidden danger on the plate.

“Never knew, never knew,” she said. “It was in with the steak, and I never knew I was swallowing a wire.”


About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.