By Cherry Misra
Recently I reread the book Evidence of Harm and felt the little shiver all over again- the thrill of reading about the early autism explorers, who struggled to uncover what was in the childhood vaccines which seemed to make their children ill- and then compiled information about the Thimerosal mercury compound which they discovered there. But this tale is about someone who understood mercury another way. This is a true story; only names have been changed.
Radhika Lu, an attractive young mother, stood in my little nursery school in New Delhi, asking questions . Tiny Liam, in her arms looked at me with a piercingly intelligent gaze. Then she put Liam down. After that I didn’t hear what she said to me ; I was noticing something different about Liam. Finally I had to speak up, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I think I have to tell you- In 37 years of running my school, I’ve never seen a child as short as yours. I think you need to find out why that is”
Soon the tears were trickling down Radhika’s cheeks. She knew very well that Liam was too short. He was completely off the charts. He was the height of a nine month old and he was two years old. She had been to at least 12 doctors and she had no answers. Maybe it was genetic. Her husband was from the small Chinese community which settled in Bengal a century or more back. Some of his relatives were unusually short and stocky. We both puzzled over it. I explained to her that she needed to see a pediatric endocrinologist and I gave her a reference . Radhika was pretty sure that she recalled receiving three tetanus toxoids during pregnancy- That’s 25 micrograms of ethylmercury in each dose. She and her husband ate fish fairly often, so that was a possible added source of mercury. I wondered if that could have anything to do with Liam’s height, and I mentioned it to Radhika, who seemed interested in the idea, but at that time I could not make a logical hypothesis . Radhika recalled that she had had many ultrasounds done during her pregnancy. Liam had been developing normally till his 5th month of gestation and then suddenly his growth appeared to stop.
A few months passed and we met again, perching together on a stone ledge outside my school. Things weren’t much better. She was still visiting more doctors; the endocrinologist had said, Lets wait and see; he is growing a little. Radhika was still disturbed.
“But what do all these doctors tell you, I enquired?” “ Well” declared Radhika, “ Either they tell me that he is normal, or they say he is too short but they don’t know why.” My regular paediatrician saw the papers of the other doctors in Liam’s file and he shouted at me “ See, you’re running to all these other doctors and there is nothing wrong with him! “ (This was the director of Pediatrics at a leading Delhi hospital)
Many months passed and then one day a smiling Radhika appeared at my school. Liam had been diagnosed with Russell Silverman Syndrome, a type of dwarfism ; was being given growth hormone and was growing one and a half centimetres per month. Liam somehow understood and tolerated his daily injections. This is how it happened: She had, one day, gone to yet another doctor and that doctor told her “ Go immediately to Fortis Hospital. There is an endocrinologist there who has returned from the U.S. and he is giving a talk today- right now ! “ Radhika dashed to meet the doctor and the next thing she knew Liam was posing proudly on a podium in front of an audience of doctors as the endocrinologist explained his diagnosis.
Another long period passed, and one evening at my school , Liam, a now cheerful Radhika , and her husband Ricky all paid me a visit. In the meantime I had googled on Russell Silver Syndrome and discovered that 75% of the cases cannot be explained genetically and I had also learned that mercury easily enters the pituitary and binds to proteins there. Radhika did not have a science background , so I didn’t think it likely that she would be interested in this possibility, but when I touched upon it, she became animated, “ I always thought it was the mercury ! You see, my father studies astrology, and when Liam was born, he said ‘He will always have a problem with mercury (the planet). He will not be well for five years, but it wont be too bad.’ I always knew it was the mercury!”
More months passed ; Liam grew to an acceptable height, was taken off the growth hormone and had been admitted in a very good primary school. One day I dialled Ricky by mistake and he told me that they had recently done the growth hormone lab test for Liam and it had come in normal range. They had not yet seen the doctor. Radhika took the phone and asked me, “What does this mean?” I was puzzled, but said, “Well, it sounds like his body is now making enough growth hormone. Maybe, if mercury was the cause, maybe the mercury has come out of his pituitary.!” “ Of course”, replied Radhika, “That’s what my father said … The problem would last for five years, and Liam is going to be five soon… I always knew it was the mercury !”
Postscript: Liam’s endocrinologist asks other parents of short children to whom he has recommended hormone injections to speak to Radhika and Ricky. In a couple of years , they have already talked to at least 7. Most of the children are boys and most of them have not received help till about age seven. I would like to say that Radhika has joined the list of warrior moms who fought to save their child’s health. The endocrinologist also noticed that there were more patients whose parents work for the Indian government. Such parents can go to special free gov’t health clinics; It is to be noted that the government clinics always use vaccines that contain 25 micrograms of ethylmercury in each pediatric dose of Hep B and DPT vaccine. Hepatitis B at birth has been a practise in New Delhi for about 10 years
Cherry Misra grew up in Seattle and moved to India 43 years ago. Having started a nursery school , Shishu Vun, 39 years ago, Cherry thought that she would one day see an autistic child. For 22 years none were seen, so she thought that she would never see one. Then in 1994 the tiny trickle of autism that later became a worldwide tsunami, first surfaced in her school. Intrigued by the theory that mercury in vaccines might be a cause of autism, she has, since 2000, devoted her extra time to studying mercury, autism and related topics.