Turokk's Lead Story

Story written by: Antoinette (Turokk's mom)

I had my first child, Turokk, on October 4
th, 2012. It was a normal pregnancy and he was the typical perfect baby in this new mom’s eyes. As he grew he hit all his milestones and I had no concerns. He was babbling, and waving. He had a few words and was a happy baby. As time we went on I noticed he wasn’t babbling anymore. His waving had stopped. His words stopped. At 15 months, Turokk was diagnosed with Autism. He would later be diagnosed with PICA. PICA is described in children that mouth objects past the typical age for exploring with their mouths like most babies and toddlers do. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “an abnormal desire to eat substances (such as chalk or ashes) not normally eaten.”

T4Around this time, we had moved from one house to another and my mother in law suggested we get his lead level tested. Turokk loved to chew everything and anything. In our new home Turokk happily discovered that the window sills were the perfect height to stand at and bite. I brought him to the doctors who didn’t want to test him. They wanted to wait until his 2-year appointment only a few months away. I took their word as the professionals in the situation but after talking to my mother in law again I decided to push the issue. After getting them to agree, Turokk’s blood lead level (BLL) was tested. It came back at 14. At 15 we would have had to bring him to be hospitalized.

I remember getting the phone call and feeling like my heart dropped. Why was this happening to my child? The guilt was tremendous and was something I work through to this day. As a mother I think it’s easy to blame ourselves. We moved into this home so it was only logical in my mind that I caused this. Now I realize how this is not the case. We moved into the house to improve our lives and give our child a home. I barely even heard of lead poisoning before! How was I to know this was silently waiting to poison my child when no one had ever educated me on the matter?

We began an iron supplement to get the lead out of his system faster. While this was happening, we had our home tested to see what else could possibly have lead. The inspector came in with his XRF testing gun and tested every surface of our home. It was very comprehensive and took over two hours easily. It was determined that the window sills, door frames, two doors and some of the closets all contained lead. We found a contractor and within about a week we were out of the house while they made our home safe.

T3After all of this happened I was sure we would be all set. We got his levels checked every three weeks and slowly but surely his levels were dropping. We were excited to put this in the past. At least we thought it would be in the past. A year later I received another gut-wrenching phone call. His lead level was high, higher even than it had been originally. His level was 45. They told us to immediately get him to the children’s hospital. I remember calling my husband to come home from work, I was crying and scared. How did this happen? Our home was supposed to be safe now.

We spent the night with him at the hospital. They checked his levels that night and in the morning. While we were there the levels were dropping, which showed something he was exposed to at home was causing this. The only thing we could think of was he enjoyed playing in his closet. I had noticed a few weeks earlier some bite marks on the door frame. Bite marks are normal in our home and I didn’t think he would be at risk, we had made the house safe the year before! While in the hospital we had my father in law seal the closet shut so no one could enter it without unlocking it. Between taking those precautions to keep him away from where we suspected he encountered the lead and his lead level dropping to 42, we could go home with him. We were instructed to start chelation therapy medication with him. It was a pill twice a day and the best I can describe the taste and smell would be comparing it to rotten eggs. It was disgusting and we felt awful giving it to him, but we had to get him healthy. He ended up being on this medication 3 times to get him levels below 27. His level went down after the first use but then the lead came out of his bones and tissue into his blood stream again, they call this a rebound, and we had to start the whole process of chelation over again. It felt like a nightmare.

Our house was once again tested. We were correct, the closet had lead. We could cover the boards and decided to not risk using the closet in fear of lead dust. Our soil was tested and our water was tested. Everything came back lead free from that testing. His lead levels continued to go down.

Turokk is now 5 years old. He still has lead in his system. His level is finally down to 12 and continues to lower. We know the lead caused irreversible damage but it’s my job as his mom to help him. I will always question what role lead played in his autism diagnosis. I will always wonder what the future holds for him. Will he ever be able to live on his own? Will he ever find love? Will he be able to have a career? Will he be a happy adult? I won’t know those answers until he is grown. I won’t know if he will ever be able to speak without struggling. I won’t know what life has in store for him, but I do know I love him no matter what and if I am around I will be there to help him.

T2I wish I had been told from my OBGYN or his pediatrician about the dangers of lead. This is absolutely preventable. With advocacy and education this is something that can continue to become a thing of the past. Lead causes irreversible damage to children and usually in their most critical years of growth and cognitive development. I will continue to tell my sons story in hopes that I can prevent anyone else from dealing with lead poisoning and I will continue trying to make this world a safer place for all our children!