MILWAUKEE - Over the last year and a half, the coronavirus pandemic has dominated headlines and the medical field.
Now that vaccines are available, one Milwaukee mother wants people to remember there is another health crisis that’s always been around: lead poisoning in children.
On a June afternoon, crews worked to delicately replace the dirt in Deanna Tyler’s backyard on the south side.
"After they did their assessment on the house and they told me everything was done, when it became hot outside, me and my kids play outside, and when I get Makaveli tested again, it jumped really high, and I knew it was the backyard," she said.
The soil behind Tyler’s home tested positive for lead, contributing to high lead levels in her son.
Tyler had already replaced windows and removed lead paint from inside her home only to learn it was now the outside making them sick.
"As a mom, you know, you want to protect your kids all the time," said Tyler. "That’s something I could not control, and I felt really bad for him. He didn’t want to eat. He was frustrated. It was really bad for me."
Because Tyler took the initiative to get her son tested, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center is helping her through the lead abatement process.
There is no treatment for lead poisoning, but removing lead from a home can help bring a child’s lead levels down and prevent more severe ramifications.
"If you don’t know that your child is lead poisoned, you can’t really do anything about it," said Jamie Ferschinger.
Ferschinger is the director of the Department of Environmental Health and Community Wellness at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center. The center’s lead outreach program is still only doing virtual home visits to help families find sources of lead.
Before the pandemic, staff members would go into homes and pinpoint what needed to change. The center is hoping to bring back in-home visits soon, but families can still make an appointment to come in and get a test.
"We shouldn’t lose sight of some of the other issues that we worry about with medical care," said Dr. Marcos De La Cruz, the clinical director of the lead outreach program. "I think lead is still happening. During the pandemic, people were inside. They were going to be inside, and we still get a lot of patients who get exposed from the home environment."
Dr. Marco De La Cruz
Sixteenth Street says its testing rates in 2020 were similar to that of previous years.
However, across Wisconsin, a CDC report found 75% fewer kids were tested for lead in April 2020 versus April 2019.
"I think a lot of patients were holding back on having their physical exams done, their annual exams done," said Dr. De La Cruz. " I think that kind of poured over in other delays in care such as retesting for lead."
Symptoms of lead poisoning can vary greatly, and some kids have no symptoms at all. That’s why it’s recommended that all kids are tested.
Tyler wants other parents to remember that no matter what else is happening in the world, lead testing should always be a priority.
"It should be that serious for every parent. If you don’t take it serious, I don’t care if it’s storms outside, you take your kids to go get tested. It affects them so much," she said.