Toddler swallows poisonous cleaner

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It was a beautiful warm spring day in May. I was working as a poison information specialist at a regional Poison Control Center. It was not a busy day, until we received a call from a frantic mother.

She said her father had been cleaning his gun at the kitchen table when her two-year-old son had taken a sip of the cleaning fluid. Maybe the child was thirsty or maybe just curious, as toddlers normally are. He seemed okay, but she called right away. I looked up the cleaning fluid on the Poison Index.

While reading the deadly effects of swallowing only a small amount of the fluid, I knew that I had to call my supervising toxicologist MD. The cleaner's chemical composition is such that when ingested it is very painful, burns and destroys internal organs and can kill.  

With guidance from the MD, we had the mother call 911 and transport the child by ambulance to the nearest hospital. It was not a pediatric facility but it was the closest hospital where they could stabilize the child. They arrived at the hospital quickly, and the child's vital signs were okay. The staff got IV access and reviewed the ECG. 

After communicating with the hospital, the child was transported to the nearest tertiary pediatric trauma center where I worked. When the child came into the pediatric ED, all hell broke loose. He very quickly became unstable, vomited and became critical. Within a short time he died horribly of internal injuries despite the quick efforts of many, many health professionals. The mother was there when the child passed. It was very sad.

If that one sip had never happened the child would be seventeen now and looking forward to graduating from high school and starting his life. Instead he lies every spring in the cold ground, still a child because of an accident.

It was fifteen years ago and still every spring I think of that small toddler who died. Every spring I think what the child's age would be that year and what grade he would be in ­– he was only two years old when he died. I also think about the condition of the parents and the grandfather. How did they cope or could they? Common chemicals in very small amounts can kill. Anyone can buy and use them. We all need to be careful to read and follow directions.

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