He was born a big healthy baby boy, on March 24, 2011. Weighing in at eight pounds ten ounces, he was my husband’s and my first child and beautiful addition to our family, considering he had a loving big brother, Gavin, at home waiting for him.
Maxwell started off with a bang. He got the chunkiest he could get.. baby rolls galore! Despite some colic, he was a healthy, happy baby. He hit all his milestones… babbles, rolling over, sitting up, walking… he would even copy daddy on the drum pad. He was full of giggles and smiles!
In February of 2012, my husband and I decided to find a new place to live. We found a big house to rent, affordable and big enough for our little family. We thought considering the cost and size, we would stay there for a long time. We thought wrong.
During our stay both boys’ health declined. Gavin was having consistent issues with his asthma, and Maxwell even had an overnight hospital stay for a bad ear infection that threw his body temperature high to low. The doctors were worried about the infection even affecting his heart.
As a mom, I just thought of these things as unfortunate parenting endeavors… things that just happened. Over the next few months, i noticed Maxwell wasn’t babbling as much. He didn’t want to play. He was walking and crawling… but no speech was starting. As a concerned mom, I contacted early intervention services to see about getting him evaluated to see if there was anything wrong, or anything we could do.
But before they came, my husband and I married – in September 2012. It was beautiful, and the boys loved it. But our happiness was cut short. In October of 2012 Maxwell came home with a limp. He would cry out with any pressure put on his leg, so of course we brought him to the emergency room.
The doctor insisted that we didn’t need to do an x-ray—and asked if we had gotten his lead level checked(!) We hadn’t. Our doctor had mentioned it but never insisted on it.. and our house looked nice, so why worry, right? Wrong… terribly wrong. The doctor seemed very concerned that our pediatrician never pushed a lead test, and continued to tell us that at high levels in the blood, lead can settle into the bone.. which he thought was the reason for the limp.
That next day I got Maxwell’s blood lead level taken. And the morning after, I got a personal phone call from our pediatrician giving me the most devastating news she possibly could: my son was lead-poisoned—with a blood lead level of 28! [There is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood; the CDC’s official “lead poisoned” diagnosis reference level is a blood lead level of 5. My son’s level was nearly 6 times as much as that.] Our pediatrician stated we needed to leave our home, and call the County Health Department immediately to get our home tested to see if that was where the lead was coming from.
We immediately packed our things and left. The four of us left for my mother’s small three bedroom house (an hour away from everything–my job, my husband’s job, our babysitter… Let’s just say it threw my family for a loop! The four of us slept either on a couch or a large air matress for nearly three weeks before we found another place to stay. But, let’s not get ahead of our story… what happened when the County came?
Our situation was considered an emergency. The county came as soon as they could; that Monday two ladies came to the house to help us find what we wish we knew all along. The house we lived in was covered in lead—poisonous, scary, invisible lead. The window frames, the walls, the radiators—all producing dust to be ingested, breathed in. This toxic metal surrounded us for 9 months, and we never even knew. My youngest son was at the stage where he put everything in his mouth. He would touch things we had no idea were covered in lead and put his hands in his mouth, and from there, was instantly poisoned. Almost every surface in our home read a “9.9”. [The women that came to do the reading stated that the instrument they were using uses a scale that reads from 0.0 to 9.9, and when it registers 9.9, the object more than likely has a higher level than 9.9.]
Where do we go from here? My son instantly started a high iron diet to try to remove the lead from his body. He had his blood drawn—which is a traumatic experience for some adults I know—every 30 days for six months. It took almost a year to get him to a “safe” blood lead level. We got him evaluated and started in-home therapy. First special ed, and speech. And later on adding occupational therapy, music therapy, and ultimately putting him in an intensive self contained program for children with special needs.
I’ve heard a specialist state that you can compare the effect on the brain from lead poisoning to that from a car crash. A head crashing through the windshield of a vehicle produces a traumatic brain injury—an IRREVERSIBLE incident that will effect you for the rest of your life. My son has similar irreversible effects from lead poisoning. We can’t know the extent of the damage that was done to areas of his developing brain from the high, continuous exposure to lead [and “the countless lead ions forever permanently incorporated into its structure in the place of the calcium ones that nature intended/needed to be in those locations”]. My family and I take our situation day by day. My son has permanent developmental, issues… He does not speak. He has intense sensory processing issues that sometimes we worry will cause him to hurt himself. He has insomnia. He suffers from bad eczema. He does not do well with sickness—a common cold can linger much longer than usual. And there’s a laundry list of things he could potentially have to deal with later on in his life.
Lead turned my son’s life into a battlefield. He has to constantly fight to learn, to deal with his sensory issues, to communicate. My innocent child has to work ten times harder than a “normal” child just to live a semi-normal life.
My husband and I speak to Maxwell as if nothing is wrong. I can’t speak for my husband, although I know he feels the same, but my heart breaks over and over again. I don’t know if my son understands what it means to hug me, or to give me kisses. I don’t know if he’ll ever understand how much we love him, how much we regret being in that home, or how guilty we feel for not knowing the dangers of lead or how it could hurt him. I don’t know if after hearing “I love you” a million times, he’ll ever say it back.
Lead is scary. Lead is dangerous. Lead is invisible and silent. You and your children are not invincible.. you have the right to have your home, your apartment, your childs school, daycare… ANYWHERE checked*. Start by calling your County Health Department. Tell them that you would like to get your home tested for lead. The sooner the better. And please, check out LeadSafeAmerica.org and educate yourselves. The more people that know about the dangers of lead the better; if you can save a your child or a friend’s child, or any child in your community from dealing with the terrible consequences of lead poisoning, please do it.
The sooner the better—please do it for Max.
*Editor’s note: Programs vary; in some – but not all – States there is free and/or mandatory testing for tenants with children under six.