Rafael was crawling around his family’s restaurant when his dad, Nathan, spotted something blue in his mouth — the same color as the rat poison used in the basement. Fortunately for this family, the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) was just a phone call away.
Rafael, or Rafi to his parents, is a typical, healthy baby boy, who at 7 months old, was busily exploring the world around him the way most crawling babies do — by putting things in his mouth.
Rafi’s parents, Nathan and Daniela, own a restaurant with Nathan’s father near their home in Trout Run, Pa. The family was there when little Rafi, exploring the restaurant on his hands and knees, happened upon something small and blueish-green, which he promptly put into his mouth.
Nathan says that the family keeps rat poison in the basement of the restaurant to keep the unwelcome critters away. Whatever Rafi had put in his mouth was a different size and consistency than the poison, but it was the same color, which was enough to alert Nathan and Daniela that Rafi’s health could be at risk.
“We panicked,” says Nathan.
The Poison Control Hotline
The couple quickly considered their options. Trout Run is a small town, three hours away from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The nearest emergency room is, at best, 35 minutes away. Thinking fast, Nathan Googled the number for the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) and hurriedly dialed.
One of 55 accredited poison centers in the United States, the Poison Control Center (PCC) at CHOP is a nonprofit public health organization that provides information, treatment advice and education to people of all ages in Eastern Pennsylvania, the greater Philadelphia area and Delaware. The PCC’s free, 24/7 resource line receives more than 65,000 calls each year. Each call is answered by a CHOP Specialist in Poison Information (SPI) who is always either a registered nurse or a pharmacist with special training in toxicology.
SPIs work with a continuously updated database that allows them to identify the ingredients and toxicity level of millions of products, including medication, household cleaning products, art supplies and even rat poison.
A Huge Relief
The nurse, Mimi, who answered Nathan’s call asked him several questions about Rafi’s possible poison exposure. Nathan and Daniela weren’t positive that the strange substance in Rafi’s mouth was actually rat poison, and they were doubtful the baby had swallowed any, as they’d removed it from his mouth right away.
After confirming the brand of the rat poison, the nurse was able to calculate the dose Rafi would’ve ingested if he had indeed swallowed the poison. She was also able to determine how much Rafi would have needed to ingest in order for the poison to harm him.
Thankfully, Rafi, who showed no symptoms of distress, had not ingested a harmful dose, the nurse reassured the parents. There was no need to make the 40-minute trek to the emergency room.
“It was a huge relief to hear that from someone who knew what she was talking about,” says Nathan. “She had a good grasp on exactly what had happened, and she was certain that Rafi would be OK.”
Had the nurse determined that Rafi was at risk of harm, she would have referred the family to the nearest emergency room, where the PCC’s medical toxicology specialists would have provided consult to the attending physician and maintained communication with Rafi’s care team throughout his hospital treatment. But, thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Nathan says that while Rafi’s health and safety were the family’s primary concern, they appreciated not having to spend the time or money on an unnecessary emergency room visit. “This is a great resource to have,” says Nathan, who prior to this experience, didn’t realize that the PCC is a CHOP service. “Now the number’s in my phone.”
Rafi recently celebrated his first birthday. A happy baby, whose first words included “hot” and “book,” he’s now keeping his parents busy by exploring the world on foot.