Kim Schellenberg holds out the barbecue grill brush from which a bristle broke off and ended up in a hamburger she ate. Schellenberg underwent two unsuccessful surgeries that tried to remove the sharp bristle from her throat.

Woman undergoes surgeries after accidentally eating bristle from grill brush

On June 28, Kim and Darcy Schellenberg sat down with son Quinton to enjoy some homemade barbecued burgers. Darcy took a bite and realized there was one topping that did not belong.

On June 28, Kim and Darcy Schellenberg sat down with son Quinton to enjoy some homemade barbecued burgers. Darcy took a bite and realized there was one topping that did not belong.

“He had gotten a little piece on his tongue just before me and he took it and threw it in the garbage and had said ‘Oh, a piece of barbecue brush,’” explained Kim.

Moments later, the 46-year-old artist took her own bite.

“At first when I was chewing I didn’t feel it, but then as some of the food moved away there was something there, and by that time it was so far back that I couldn’t get enough tongue thrust to move it forward to get it out. And then ‘bang,’ it was stuck.”

Kim had ingested a miniscule bristle from the grill brush that Darcy had used to clean the couple’s barbecue. She failed at an attempt to pluck it out with a long pair of tweezers, and as the moments passed she could feel what felt like a two-ended pin poke its way further and further down her throat.

The Schellenbergs headed to the Red Deer Regional Hospital where a CT scan showed the wire lodged in her throat. But without an ear, neck and throat surgeon on call that night, the couple was told that they would have to head to Calgary’s Foothills Hospital for a surgery to get it out.

By the time the appropriate surgeon was available, hours had passed since the ingestion, and the wire was no longer where it had been seen earlier. Surgeons were concerned the wire could have poked itself out of her esophagus or moved down, where it could damage other organs or puncture arteries.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a stupid way to die — death by barbecue brush? Is this what my legacy is going to be, death by barbecue brush?’ It was really that macabre sense of humour that got us through,” said Kim.

A subsequent scan would show the bristle in her small intestine. Ultimately, doctors let Schellenberg out of the hospital on July 2, telling her they hope the wire has simply worked its way out of her system.

Like most people, Kim did not ever think barbecuing could present such a danger. But through research in the days since the accident, she has found many cases of bristle ingestion and was told by one friend how a relative’s bowel got sliced up from a stray wire.

Cheap grill brushes abound, and in 2012 a report from the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was devoted to cases of people being affected by grill bristles. The report suggested people might want to use other instruments to clean grills.

Upon inspection, the Schellenbergs’ old brush probably contains around 1,500 individual bristles. A quick look at the family grill Monday found at least five loose wires that had become dislodged.

If using a plastic brush with metal bristles, it is recommended to clean one’s grill when it is cold, as when hot the plastic could start to expand, releasing bristles.

There are other grill-cleaning tools on the market, from blocks made of recycled glass and something called Grillfloss to nylon bristle brushes and metal and wooden scrapers. Darcy says he will make his own wooden scraper to use the next time the couple feels like barbecuing.

Since the accident many friends have contacted the Schellenbergs to say they were throwing their brushes in the trash. The Schellenbergs’ own relatively-new brush was there too, but it has since been pulled out and Kim joked that maybe it should be framed and put up in the house.

Kim said she does not plan to try getting compensation out of the brush maker and will be satisfied making people more aware of what they should look out for.

“A lot of the time we don’t look at that barbecue brush until it’s down to a little greasy nub, so where did it all go? How much of that did you ingest without knowing?” she said.

She is still dealing with some pain resulting from the surgery and having trouble eating. The stitches in her neck will likely remain for another week.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Olds father charged for alleged sexual offences on child

Child porn and sexual assault among charges

Red Deer man says more cardiac care needed here

Ryan Gillies spent several extra days in hospital waiting to get a stent in Edmonton

Toronto the only Canadian city on Amazon short list of HQ2 candidates

Toronto is the only Canadian city on Amazon Inc.’s short list of… Continue reading

Barenaked together: Steven Page to join Barenaked Ladies for Music Hall of Fame induction

TORONTO — Barenaked Ladies aren’t getting back together with Steven Page, but… Continue reading

Feds mum on possible Canadian support to new U.S.-backed Syrian border force

OTTAWA — The federal government is refusing to say whether Canada will… Continue reading

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month