Doctors in Preston suspected a dad of two had cancer after a dark mass was found in his chest - only to discover it was actually a toy he inhaled 40 years earlier as a child.
Paul Baxter went to Royal Preston Hospital after months of ill health, complaining about a persistent cough that just wouldn’t go away.
But after months of tests shocked doctors discovered the cause of his woes were actually a tiny toy traffic cone from a Playmobil set he received for his seventh birthday.
Paul, who is now 50, said: “Kids eat things and I obviously ate my toys. But I can’t even remember swallowing it to be honest.”
Doctors now say Paul is a medical marvel and it could be the longest a foreign object has gone undiscovered inside a patient in British history.
Postman Paul said he initially went to Chorley and South Ribble Hospital but was referred to Royal Preston Hospital for a bronchoscopy - where doctors sent a camera into his lungs - to see if they could find what was causing a niggling cough.
Paul, who lives in Croston with his wife Helen, said: “Doctors said they could see something down my throat but didn’t know what it was.”
Dr Mohammed Munavvar, has been a doctor for 30 years, was the man who discovered the tiny toy.
He said: “I have never come across something quite this extraordinary before. There have been one or two other things but nothing quite like this.”
At first, Dr Munavvar feared the worst, with Paul being a former smoker and having been coughing up yellow mucus for months.
“There was concern about something more serious underlying the problem Paul was experiencing,” Dr Munavvar said. “It was honestly a full on surprise when I saw what the blockage actually was.”
Dr Munavvar, who has spent 20 of his 30 years as a doctor at Royal Preston, said: “Usually the patient remembers they have inhaled something but in Paul’s case he just didn’t.
“We are really pleased for him. The end result was fantastic. The entire team was lifted as a result - we always feel so much better going home improving a patients condition.”
There was a chance for the toy to find the light of day when Paul was admitted to hospital with a bout of pneumonia more than 20 years ago, but the chance went missing back then.
Paul said: “When I was 18 I had pneumonia and I was in hospital for two weeks and even then doctors never picked it up on the x-rays that were taken.”
The mass in his lungs went unbeknownst to Paul until the orange Playmobil traffic cone was presented to him and he’s now kept it as a souvenir of his ordeal.
He said: “I thought it was just a normal chest infection. I wasn’t aware of how serious it could have been.”
Experts said it’s likely he went symptomless for so long because of how young he was when he ingested the toy, suggesting that as he grew older, his airways adapted around the foreign object.
The case came to light after it was written about in the BMJ Case Reports medical journal.
In the journal, doctors wrote: “He finally found his long lost Playmobil traffic cone in the very last place he would look.”
They added: “To our knowledge this is the first reported case of a tracheobronchial foreign body that was overlooked for 40 years.”
Doctors said, his symptoms lessened almost immediately after the operation, which took place in 2015 when Paul was 47.
They said: “Four months after removal of the tiny traffic cone, his productive cough had almost entirely settled and a chest X-ray only showed minor residual consolidation.”