July 2001, our family moved from California to Iowa to be closer to family. We found a very cute house to rent in a wonderful neighborhood. Everything was looking up.
In June of 2003, the company my husband worked for closed down without any prior notice. We were without an income for one month. Since my husband was a contractor, we did not qualify for unemployment. A friend suggested that we enroll in the WIC program until we were back on our feet. On our first visit they performed a routine lead screening test on both of my sons: Sean, age 3 and Connor, age 1.
A week later I received a phone call from the Black Hawk County Health Department. Sean’s initial finger stick screening test came back with a level of 27 ug/DL. He was ordered to have a venous blood test performed to determine his actual poisoning count. That test came back at a level of 40 ug/DL. Connor’s BLL was 7ug/DL. At the time this happened, the standard was anything under 10 ug/DL was considered normal, Sean was 4 times the normal allowed level.
The next week our home was visited by the local health department to test our home for lead. We lived three houses away from our family doctor, who walked his dog by our home daily. He never once thought our home was a lead threat, nor did we. The area of concern was on one wall on the outside of the home. As “bad” luck would have it, that is where we had placed Sean’s sandbox that he played in. The day our home was tested, our landlord had the house scheduled to be power washed to prepare for painting. That was quickly cancelled and the house was scheduled to be sided instead. Had our home been power washed, it would have caused a much larger problem, and if Sean had been outside during this and exposed, his blood lead levels would have risen to dangerous levels.
Sean was tested by the local Area Agency 267 in July of 2003. He was diagnosed with ADHD and high functioning autistic-like traits. His speech was approximately a year behind normal parameters. He attended a special preschool that worked closely with him for preparation into kindergarten. He also had a year of occupational therapy to help him with his fine motor skills.
Sean, like most other lead poisoned children, did not have any obvious symptoms of lead poisoning. He did experience night terrors, but when I asked our family doctor about this, I was reassured this was normal behavior, since I used to sleep walk as a child and my husband sleep talks. As Sean’s lead numbers dropped, the night terrors decreased and finally stopped.
A lot of children at the blood lead level Sean was, and higher levels, need to undergo Chelation therapy to remove the lead. Our family doctor felt that at a level 40 ug/DL that Sean would benefit more from a diet change vs Chelation. So we increased Sean's calcium, Iron, an protein intake.
In 1st grade, we were pressured by Sean's teachers to put him on medication. We had him tested again and he was put on medication to help him stay focused during school. Medication is a fine art with children like Sean. It is not a one size fits all. To find the right balance for Sean took us 5 years of medication changes.
Even with no new lead exposure, It took Sean four years for his BLL to reach a level considered at that time to be within normal parameters. For the first 2 years, Sean had monthly blood work. He would quietly cry each time they drew blood. On his 5th Birthday, he had to have blood drawn and informed us that “five year olds don’t cry”. He never cried having it drawn again. The next two years, his blood was drawn every 3 months.
In 2012, I was asked by the NCHH to speak on Hill Day in Washington to help restore funding that had been cut to the CDC and health departments. When Sean heard I was going, he said " But I was the one lead poisoned, I should get to go." A ticket was purchased and Sean went to DC. Sean was able to speak to the Senators and ask them to do what they could so this didn't happen to other kids. In 2013, the funding was restored.
In Sean's 10th grade year, He approached us to be taken off medication. We allowed this with the agreement that if he slipped back in grades, that he would go back on the medication. He knew this meant he had to work harder. He succeeded.
All in all, Sean spent 2 years in special ed preschool
2 years in speech therapy
1 years in OT
4 years of laboratory blood tests
8 years on medication
14 years having IEPs in school.
His senior year he graduated out of the IEP program & graduated from high school in May 2017.