Story by Mama Jennifer in Ohio
Last year I relocated my family to a rural country town in southern Ohio. I was excited to get my family out into the country and I thought this would be my “dream home.”
We rented a home from a family member. When I first saw the home it was in need of repair and the exterior needed to be painted. My family member told me that the paint she had used 2 years ago to repaint the home made the paint peel off, but she was repainting it and she assured me the house would be done (and repainted) in 3 weeks – in time for my move.
Three weeks came and we drove out with a U-haul full of our stuff, ready to move in.
When I arrived the repainting was not finished(!)
The exterior was so bad it was embarrassing and the inside wasn’t finished at all. There was no trim on the walls of the home and there was a inch gap between the wall and floor. The old insulation was showing through and dirt was coming through cracks in the walls!
She said that the issue was the walls were so wavy she claimed she couldn’t put up the trim. She also said she was broke and she promised she would buy the trim and she would install it as soon as she could.
The doors weren’t painted. There were tiles missing. When I took a look around outside I was amazed—the dirt outside was covered in paint chips and trash.
I was so disappointed, after we had made such an effort to move based on her assurances that the home would be ready for us… so disappointed!
I spoke to the owner again and she told me “sorry the inspection is not done yet so you can’t move in for a few days.” At this point I really started to get upset (why she didn’t tell me this before I loaded up my stuff and kids and came out!)
In a few days, the inspector came and went and “okay’ed” everything.
To be honest, I was shocked, but I was out of money and 100 miles from home – so there was no turning back.
At this point my children were 14 years old , 8 years old and 18 months old.
As soon as we moved in I got sick very sick. It was so bad I actually could not breathe; I was hospitalized for a week. The landlord joked that my “dream house in the country” was “out to kill me”!
Little did I know how true that was; while I was sick I was on a breathing machine every 4 hours and on so many meds I could not keep it straight. And while all of this was going on for me personally my 18 Month old started acting strangely…he quit eating food —and started eating dirt!!!
I was pulling mud from his mouth, crying and frantically asking my husband, “What’s wrong with my baby?!”
What baby doesn’t want a cookie but would rather eat dirt out of the cracks of the walls?!!!
My 8 year old had previously been diagnosed with autism so I began to read and learn everything I could about autism and found out that pica (eating non-food items) was sometimes considered a sign of autism. The Early Intervention Therapist wrote it up as “pica due to autism” but this didn’t seem right to me. In my gut I knew there was more to it— that this was not right.
I spoke with the landlord’s daughter about my son and she told me I was crazy. She said that since one child was autistic I had it in my head that my kids were autistic and that it was my fault… that I created the problem and that was in my head!
People thought I was crazy.
I would search and read and ask every therapist my two children saw what their thoughts were about my kids—and autism.
One day my son’s case worker came and she saw the house. I told her about the problems I was having with the baby and she looked at me and said “Well, is that lead paint peeling on the outside of the home?”
I told her I didn’t know and then called the landlord and asked her if it was lead paint. She told me “no!”. She said it was “water–based paint”. I then asked her daughter and she told me “no”.. she said she had “lived there for years and grew up there and never had any problems”…so I left it alone.
A few weeks later the baby got sick. He was sooo sick…his weight dropped…he looked pale and he was throwing up. We took him in to the doctor for fluids—and blood work to try to see what was wrong with him.
When the doctor came in he said that there was something “wrong” with his blood work and E.N.S. would transport him to Akron Children’s Hospital.
I remember driving behind the ambulance crying so hard I couldn’t see. I was scared to death.
When a doctor says there’s “something wrong” with your child’s blood you don’t know what to think – but you think of the worst possible scenarios!
When we arrived the doctor told us it was “classic signs of lead poisoning”. He said to follow up and get a lead test done. The baby had been sick SEVEN WEEKS and nothing I did helped him. I could not get him better.
Since we did not have a pediatrician at this hospital he was considered a new patient, and no one would take him till he was “better.”
By the time I got the lead test it was April of 2014 and it came back at a Blood Lead Level of 19 micrograms per deciliter. When I received the call I was shocked (I knew they only call when it is bad news!)
I took him into the doctor’s office and was told how bad it was, and was told we had to go to a blood specialist. I was told that a person from the Board of Health would be in touch with me since the baby was poisoned.
It was then that it hit me: my baby was poisoned. It wasn’t autism at all — it was the lead!
I wasn’t crazy.
It wasn’t “in my head”!
When we got to the specialist he told me basically the lead wiped out his iron so his iron was dangerously low and that this was “more important than the lead”. They also said that this is what likely caused the pica. Since his white count was still off, the doctor prepared me for the worst – the possibility that he could possibly have leukemia. As he was telling me these things I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe.
Thank the Lord the tests came back negative for cancer!
The next week the baby broke out into pox all over his body. It looked like it might be hand foot and mouth disease but he broke out three times in two months and which doesn’t happen with hand foot and mouth… so we were sent back to “infectious diseases” for re-evaluation. They found he had a parasite—and they said that:
1) the lead took out the iron
2) the low-iron caused pica, and then
3) the dirt that he ate must have had animal feces in it with the lead-paint chips – which is how he got the parasite.
It didn’t stop at hives.
One day my baby would not stop crying. I put him in the car for a ride (which almost always works to settle him down) but he STILL didn’t stop crying.
I took him to the E.R. and his oxygen was 89. He couldn’t breathe!!!
The worms had gotten into his lungs.
He was hospitalized for 5 days.
By this time the state of Ohio had just tested our home and we found out the lead was everywhere…in the dirt, in the dust, on the doors, on the wood panels, the whole outside of the home – both porches — it was everywhere!
All the little light blue (paint) specks were lead—throughout the yard where my car was parked, on my porches, on the walkway.
The inspector told me not to allow my kids in the yard and basically to get ready for a huge fight with the homeowner – since they tend to get upset when they find out how much it will cost to repair the home.
My landlord was lucky; it turned out there was State funding to help her.
I did get a lawyer, and I started looking for a home right away and through a blessing I did find a home! An “angel” helped us buy a home with no money—just for the safety of our children—and made sure the home was lead-free !!!!!
While we were moving out/leaving the home, a woman from the home insurance company came out and took pictures. This made the landlord very upset!
As we moved we washed everything and threw away so much (including all of our area rugs and anything that was used to clean that home – like mops, mop buckets, brooms, vacuums … everything.)
We took our time moving out because we wanted to do it right – to make sure to not introduce lead dust hazards into our new home. Since we were taking our time the landlord broke in and took all of my property that was still there! [She did this (she said) because I refused to give her rent for the home during this transition time! She said I ruined her life because her insurance went up on all 6 rental properties; all I could think was she ruined my life!]
This was all in June.
Since we have moved from the home four months ago my breathing has been fine (no breathing machines! no inhalers! nothing—not even a cough!), and the baby is doing amazing; he went from a BLL 19 down to a BLL 6. He is slowly starting to eat again and is looking so much better.
I never really saw just how sick he looked, until I recently looked at some pictures of him from over the past year. Now that the trauma is behind us, I can see and really “get” how bad he actually was!
I feel so guilty sometimes – that I ever rented that home. Then I get angry that the inspector did not catch it in his inspection when we moved in. Then I feel betrayed by a landlord who has rented houses for 25 years and never told me or warned me of the dangers nor did she apparently care. (She rented the home a week later to another family before the health department could send her the official papers!)
Life today with the baby is very hard. He doesn’t sleep nearly enough (maybe 6 hours a day – and naps 2.) He doesn’t eat full meals – just “bites” here and there. He is hyperactive and is still suffering from pica. He is non-verbal, so most of the time he just screams and cries from pure frustration. He still can only drink from a bottle—even though he is now 2 1/2 years old!
He is still very much a baby.
He has a “global delay” and has brain damage. He is still far from potty training. He does not appear to understand much. I have to have alarms on all doors and windows to keep him from wandering. I have a tag on his shoe, just in case he gets lost. Since he can’t yet speak, I have signs on the windows and doors for emergency responders that say, “child may not respond to verbal commands”.
I live a life of isolation with him due to the pica and the screaming and the “overloads”.
I haven’t seen my oldest son play football this year because the baby can not handle going to games (with lots of people and loud noises in public places.)
I have to keep him in a stroller at all times when we are out in public. He will not walk. He has meltdowns and throws himself to the floor. He bangs his head on the walls and gets so frustrated. He has started hitting the wall with his body and hitting me out of frustration, anger and lack of impulse control.
I pray you never have to go though this.
I don’t know what the future holds for my son.
All I know is it is truly “one day at a time.”
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
Please share what has happened to me so it doesn’t happen to the loved ones in your life.
Sharing my story might save your children or your friend’s children from my child’s fate.