Family Story of the Week, – Friday, April 18, 2014
I’m Julia, mother of two boys who are 4 and 2 1/2 right now. Their names are Dheeran and Mithran. My husband Ramesh and I are computer engineers from India. We live in St Louis, Missouri. I love the quote “Of all the names I’ve been called I like ‘Mom’ the best” as I celebrate being a mother every moment and I believe my family is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Here comes our story of our life with lead poisoning…
On March 21, 2012, a very usual weekday, Ramesh and I were having lunch together as we worked at the same building then. Dheeran who was 2 at that time attended a very good Montessori daycare’s toddler program and my younger son who was 7 months then was at home with my husband’s parents. They had just arrived from India to take care of Mithran while we were at work. They were staying for 6 months. My mind was at peace and I was able to focus on my work as my kids were in good hands. As we were finishing our lunch I got a call from my kids’ pediatrician’s office and the nurse said Dheeran’s blood test results from the blood draw 2 months back (2nd year appointment) indicated he had a Blood Lead Level (BLL) of 8. When I asked how common that was I was told usually at their practice most children who tested positive had levels between 1 and 3 and an 8 was high although it was less than 10 which was the state’s limit to label it as lead poisoning. We were told there were no medical interventions for a BLL of 8 [for children, the dangers of chemical chelation mean that it is only used in cases of very high (life-threatening) levels] – and we were asked to “focus on a diet rich in iron, vitamin c and calcium and retest in 3 months”.
We retested immediately – as it was 2 months already. All of us were crying in the draw lab as the tech. couldn’t get enough blood from my 7 month old. It was a traumatic experience for Dheeran – he couldn’t watch his little brother writhing in pain. The results were the same, Dheeran’s BLL was 8 and Mithran’s was 1.
My awareness about lead poisoning was ZERO, I didn’t know anything as my doctors hadn’t warned about it and I had not come across related information from any of my friends. I started reading about lead, nutrition, prevention and possible sources of exposure. I pulled him out of daycare immediately and put him on a strict diet which included 32 ounces of milk (I had read something that said that lead and calcium appear similar to the brain and bone-building processes in a growing child, and that when a child is hungry, the body is more likely to try to conserve calcium – and thus retain more of absorbed lead as well), orange juice, iron drops, lots of green vegetables etc.
We called the health department and the inspectors who came home checked our toys, jewelry, cookware, our house built in 1979 and found a switch plate with high levels of lead but Dheeran was almost never around that switch plate. There was a cooking pan from India that tested positive for lead but I didn’t cook anything for Dheeran in it. Since I had cooked breakfast for me in that pan I pumped my milk and threw it away as I didn’t want Mithran to get a dose of lead from me.
That was all; other than the pan, they didn’t find a source.
We sent our backyard soil and water for testing and they came back clean. Even before testing the water, I had already switched from using pitcher water filters (that don’t always filter lead) to a faucet mounted filter that claimed to filter lead in our kitchen. I got my blood tested and my BLL was 2. I continued breastfeeding my younger son after coming to know that it was safe to do so and my level was too low (although high for my body mass) to produce milk that had enough lead to poison a baby.
6 months later when we retested (late October or November 2012) Dheeran’s level was 7 and Mithran’s was 1 again. Doctor was happy that the level didn’t go up and it had started going down. I wasn’t satisfied with her opinion as I had read otherwise. I had learned that the “half-life” of lead was 30 – 45 days and a persistent level almost always was due to some ongoing source of exposure. I was browsing frantically trying to find something that would help me find the source.
I beat myself up for working and not being at home with Dheeran taking care of him. I have not worn that shirt I wore the day I first got the call from the pediatrician’s office till today. I still cannot look at pictures of my son between 1.5 and 2 years without guilt. I had let my son get poisoned, my innocent bundle of joy poisoned because I didn’t know enough to protect him.
One day I found Tamara’s website and read her story. I wasn’t very confident that I was going to get a reply when I e-mailed her that morning asking for direction/tips to find a source in my son’s case. I was surprised to see her reply within 15 minutes or so. We spoke on the phone that very noon. Over the next few days I e-mailed her pictures of my house and toys and sent her samples of the ground spices I was using for cooking. As soon as I learned spices could be a possible source I threw away all of my spice powders and bought organic whole spices and ground them at home for cooking.
Speaking to Tamara empowered me to keep looking and after joining the Facebook group of mothers in similar situation, I got the feeling I wasn’t alone.
I rented an XRF device (it was pretty expensive even for a day) and Ramesh and I sat in the basement testing every single thing in our house – all of the toys, cookware, plates, bowls, cups, jewels etc. I instantly threw away everything that tested positive for lead. There were coffee mugs, an electric rice cooker, toys etc. After that, I took on other life style changes to help my son recover and one major thing was moving to organic and non-GMO foods completely; I knew this wasn’t going to rule out lead exposure, but when you start reading about toxins one gets a glimpse of all factors surrounding it and one of those is healthy nutrition. Coriander leaves/ Cilantro, Turmeric which are known for their detox properties are already part of our daily Indian diet.
In 3 months his level was down to a 5 (Dheeran was now 3 years old). I had changed to a different pediatrician but she didn’t help much about the issue either – but at least she respected my concern that there was continual exposure and understood that any level of lead is unsafe.
I contacted Tamara again and she mentioned that she had used Bioray’s “NDF plus” with her children when they were poisoned (it’s a gentle organic heavy metal detox drops.) I had stopped using iron drops long back and focused on foods rich in iron like Chicken broth every day for high heme iron that is absorbed better than non-heme or vegetable based iron.
6 months later his level was still 5.
We got Mithran tested every time Dheeran was and it always came back as 1 even trying 3 different labs. I’m not sure if the labs I had taken them to have an accuracy limit of 1 and can’t go lower than that but I sincerely hope that’s the case. In Dheeran’s case I started wondering if he was having internal exposure and went for an abdominal x-ray to see if something was in his appendix releasing lead. It is very rare but has happened in few cases as I had run across on the Internet. We went to a homeopathic doctor who suggested doing a DMPS challenge test to evaluate the total body burden. Dheeran didn’t tolerate the smell of the pill and vomited it and I didn’t want to repeat the process fearing we would fail getting the whole dose in while giving him traces of that strong chemical every single time we tried.
In July 2013 we went on a 1 month trip to India and while on the trip I continued NDF and after we came back in August the retesting result was a 5 and 1 again.
At his 4th year appointment Dheeran’s level came back as 4 and Mithran’s was still 1. The primary change I did over the past 6 months is adding green juice with lemon, apple, carrot, orange everyday using a masticating juicer. I’m not sure if the drop from 5 – 4 is due to decreasing exposure or detoxing or because he’s growing.
March 22 2014 Tamara came to St Louis for the screening of Mislead. I was so excited to meet her in person finally but I couldn’t get even one friend of mine to attend the screening with me. There is so much resistance when it comes to information or awareness of lead poisoning. I didn’t expect her to come to our home because of her busy schedule although I was going to invite her for dinner but again she surprised me. Since she was in town, she offered to come to our home and test our things for lead, to see if the inspectors had missed anything. I am so grateful that she did. She looked with fresh eyes on this. She saw things that others had not even considered as potential sources, and together we came up with some easy changes we could make that might help our sons. Her thoroughness and vision astonishes me and I think she is the kind of person the government should sponsor across the nation for testing stuff and counseling families.
Did we find potential sources of exposure? YES. My stainless steel pressure cooker from India had pressure and safety valves with unacceptable levels of lead (more than 120,000 ppm lead!), my mini baby food blender jar’s center nut holding the blade in place had 47,700 ppm of lead. The heating vents in the house had lead levels ranging from 9,000 ppm – 33,000 ppm. My pressure cooker safety valve has SO much lead that it tested positive even with a surface test swab! There are 2 metal poles in my basement’s unfinished area that tested very high for lead. My kids play there often in the winter.
I have since replaced all my non-stick cookware with cast iron and heavy gauge stainless steel, use only glass and lead free ceramic storage and dinnerware. Before Tamara’s visit I had tested almost everything in my house – and still Tamara found so many things with LEAD that had been missed! I’m just thinking of people who do not have the awareness, who are unintentionally poisoning their kids daily, stripping them of their intelligence and damaging their brains permanently. Lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable but the damage caused is irreversible.
Have I noticed anything different than normal in Dheeran that I suspect is due to lead poisoning? YES
He had speech delay, didn’t start talk much between 2 and 3 while he was at home. Only at 3 when he started the Montessori program again his speech took off. He is very impulsive and gets upset too soon throwing a tantrum. His teacher doesn’t think he has a problem and he is doing well academically. I DON’T like putting a label to things like this as he is just 4 and this kind of behavior is often regarded as “typical” for a 4 year old boy but not a day has passed without the fear that the lead is doing or has already done something bad to his brain and the guilt that I allowed this to happen to my baby. I can’t wait for the day when his levels get to 0. I have surrendered completely to GOD asking Him to protect my children in every way because as human beings we can do only so much.
Thanks for reading our story. My thoughts are with all parents fighting lead poisoning and love to all their little ones.