Tongue piercing

March 27, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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Zombro Family

Last fall, 16-year-old Abby Zombro of Hagerstown disobeyed her parents, lied about her age and got her tongue pierced at a Chambersburg, Pa., tattoo parlor.

The price was $40, but in the end it proved more costly. Abby got an infection, began bleeding and had to be rushed to the hospital several days later.

Abby and her parents talked about Abby's experience in hopes their story will make other teenagers think twice before indulging in the popular fad.


"I wouldn't do it now," Abby said. "I'd wait until I was 18. That way it would be your responsibility if something happens - not your parents'."

Abby said, however, she sees nothing wrong with body piercing. "I miss my tongue ring," she said. "It's something I always wanted. It's just fun."

On a more practical note, Abby said she felt if she could click the ring against her teeth it would help her break a bad chewing habit.

Abby said when she and her friend went to the Tattoo Asylum, she lied about her age. Her friend had her navel pierced. Then it was Abby's turn.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Abby described the level of pain as "a 9 1/2."

Abby said when the woman who did the piercing couldn't get the needle through her tongue, and she began bleeding, owner Brian Shives intervened and finished the job quickly.

Abby said the woman and Shives used gloves and sterilized equipment, and after the piercing told her how to prevent infection.

Several days later Abby awoke around 4 a.m., choking on her own blood. "I thought I was going to die," she said.

"That was when we found out she'd had her tongued pierced," said her father, John Zombro.

tongue piercing"It was awful. She came in our bedroom and collapsed on top of me. She was full of blood," said her mother, Marye Zombro. The Zombros rushed Abby to Washington County Hospital where doctors suctioned the blood out of her mouth and removed the steel post that went through her tongue by unscrewing the metal balls that held it in place.

As a precautionary measure, doctors ordered AIDS and hepatitis tests. They were negative.

The Zombros said they went to the Tattoo Asylum and talked to owner Brian Shives. They said he seemed concerned about Abby, and offered to pay her medical bills.

"I can understand why she (Abby) might have gotten an infection, because she actually had three piercings," Shives said. A woman he had hired two weeks previously was in the middle of the piercing when Abby pulled her tongue in, he said. The woman couldn't find the original hole, and tried without success to pierce the tongue a second time, he said. Shives said he took over. "I fired the woman the same day," he said.

Shives said he discovered later that Abby had shown him a false ID and signed a false name on the studio's consent/release form.

Shives said he does not knowingly tattoo or pierce people younger than 18.

He said he follows strict piercing standards set by law in Texas, where he worked before coming to Chambersburg.

"The health department there used to come around every 30 to 60 days and take blood from everyone," he said. "You were tested for hepatitis, TB and HIV," Shives said. "You had to have an approved studio."

Shives said when he opened his studio last year he called the local health department and asked them to inspect it. "They said they didn't have any authority over tattoo studios," he said. "They said they didn't have time. They were too busy inspecting restaurants and beauty shops."

An emergency room physician who treated Abby is opposed to piercings.

"Anytime you put a foreign object into a body cavity you risk infection, bleeding and - depending on the sterilization methods used - hepatitis and AIDS," said Dr. Thomas Gilbert.

He said he's seen cases in which tongue dumbbells came apart, were swallowed and blocked the airway.

Gilbert said he's seen pierced nipples, noses, navels, eyebrows, eyelids and sexual organs.

"I think kids should be aware of the consequences of body piercing," Marye Zombro said. "I think there should be strict laws governing this. They can poke holes in anything they want now. I think minors should be protected."

Shives agreed. He said if Abby were his daughter, he would have been upset too.

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