Stop Exposing Our Children to Harmful Chemicals—or Harmful Anything Else

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Almost every year there are reports of children who are serious harmed by parents or guardians who carelessly leave chemicals or other dangerous substances or items in innocent children’s way, exposing the children to life-threatening conditions.

That was the problem with little Kebbeh Koryan a few years ago. Her grandmother was making soap, an important means of self-support. One of the ingredients for this cottage industry is caustic soda. The grandmother carelessly left the caustic soda on the floor where she was working, and one-and-a-half-year-old Kebbeh promptly took up the bottle with both hands and drank it!

That immediately caused very serious damage to her throat, making it impossible for her to eat, drink or swallow anything—not even water.

From doctor to doctor the utterly distressed and frightened parents went, and found each doctor totally incapable of doing anything to cure the child’s throat. This was not because doctors lacked the medical expertise to solve the problem, but the necessary equipment could not be found in any Liberian hospital—not even our leading referral, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK).

All the doctors could do was to insert tubes into the child’s stomach to feed her with liquids and keep her alive.

Praise God, there was in Liberia one caring and dynamic woman named Charlesetta Williams, a great humanitarian, who has over many years made it her business to reach out to Liberian children in medical distress and take them abroad for treatment.

Charlesetta found out about gravely ill children mostly from the newspapers, beginning with the Daily Observer, and responded to the cries of the desperate parents.

The latest victim of this parental carelessness was Richard Mychenburg, who at four found a bottle of caustic soda lying on the floor at home and promptly drank some of it.

The boy is now 12 years old, his bones and ribs clearly visible on his malnourished body. We do not know why it took the parents so long to reach the Daily Observer which, once we got the story, immediately published it last Thursday.

We are appealing to all people and institutions of goodwill to reach out to this lad and help him get to Ghana or someplace else to seek relief and save his life.

In the case of little Kebbeh, who became afflicted with the caustic soda in 2009, Charlesetta, after reading the child’s story in the Daily Observer, immediately found her parents and started knocking on the doors of caring and compassionate people, organizations and airlines, notably SN Brussels (now Brussels Airlines), to raise money and air tickets to transport the child and her mother to Ghana for advanced medical attention.

That is how Kebbeh and her 20-year-old mother got to Ghana, first for testing to determine whether the problem was treatable, and later for treatment. Within a few weeks following the second visit, Kebbeh, now eight, was completely healed, and is eating normally, growing beautifully and is now in K-2.

But it was not only the Daily Observer that helped get Kebbeh healed. Among the companies that assisted were Brussels Airlines, which provided the air tickets, and the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), whose officials, notably Madams Marie Parker and Ophelia Hoff Saytoma, president Randolph
McClain and chair Robert Sirleaf, saw to it that the company contributed US$3,000 to ensure that Kebbeh got to Ghana for treatment.

The Daily Observer helped her mother, Lovetta, complete high school.

Who now will come to Richard Mayenburg’s aid? We hope and pray that some people and institutions will act very soon.

We make only two more points in this Editorial. First, we appeal to all Liberian parents and guardians to KEEP HARMFUL SUBSTANCES AND OTHER SUCH ITEMS OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN. The children are innocent and do not know better. But we the adults know better and should act accordingly to protect our children from danger.

Secondly, we appeal to the Liberian government, especially President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Minister of Health, Dr. Bernice Dahn, and the JFK, our leading referral hospital, to ensure that modern medical facilities come to Liberia. How long will it take to end our dependency on other people and other countries to cure our desperately ill children and other citizens?

This Administration has only 17 months left, but we believe that with the political will, a lot can be done to equip the JFK, Phebe and the Jackson F. Doe with what it takes to empower them to treat our critically ill children and other ailing citizens needing specialized medical care.

The families of many seriously ill patients have given credit to the doctors at JFK for their expertise. “They are very good in their profession, you know,” said one leading Liberian woman whose relative JFK recently treated. “The problem,” she added, “is that they lack the equipment to do their work.” We also add the lack of instruments, drugs and many basic hospital supplies and amenities.

We pray that the government will heed this plea and redeem our medical institutions from incapacity and powerlessness to carry out its purpose.

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