Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is one of the American Women of the Century TODAY. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we have gathered a list of 100 women who have had a significant impact on our country or our lives over the past 100 years. Read about all of them on August 14th.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha cannot wait. Pediatricians have found elevated lead levels in children’s blood in Flint, Michigan. She had proof that the city’s water, led from the Flint River, was contaminated with lead.
In September 2015, she rang an alarm.
“As a doctor and scholar, when we do research, it is examined and your colleagues look at it,” says Hanna-Attisha. It is a long process. “I did a complete disobedience in the academic world: I actually walked out of my clinic and stood up at a press conference and shared this research. Because there was no time. Every passing day is another day that puts us children at risk. “
She said she felt great about half an hour after going public. “I like, ‘Yes, this is great. I’m protecting the kids. Everything will change.’ “
But that did not happen. As soon as she shared the scientific information, the state said she was wrong, that her study did not match their larger surveillance data. “The words people say that I am an unlucky researcher, that I have caused hysteria, are also sexism,” she said.
She said officials had dismissed Flint’s stakeholders – parents, religious leaders, journalists, activists – for months. “I should never have done that research. Apparently the water crisis should never begin. It should have stopped when the first mother picked up a bottle of brown water.”
She says she feels small, defeated. “I have this overwhelming feeling of impostor syndrome, that maybe I shouldn’t do this. Maybe I should continue my business as a mother, a pediatrician, a busy wife.
“Nothing can prepare you for when the entire state chases after you and tells you you’re wrong.”
Of course, she’s not wrong. All the others are demanding change for Flint, as is a city with a majority of its black population. The city started using the Flint River water in April 2014.
Hanna-Attisha, now associate professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University, said: “So it took some time, but in the end with teamwork, persistence and science. more, we told the truth with strength ”.
Woman of the Century: For Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, activism is deeply rooted in her culture.
In 2015, Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, 43, demonstrated to the world that water in Flint, Michigan was contaminated with lead.
Question: How is the water quality in Flint today?
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha: Just a few weeks later (press conference), we are back to the Great Lakes water. It was October 2015. And since then our water quality has improved over time. However, a year and a half that we are on this super corrosive water has ruined our pipes and they are being replaced now. Within a few months of this year, by 2020, all of those pipes will be replaced. And that is a huge success, we will just be the third city in the country to replace our pipeline. But until those pipes are replaced, people take precautions to filter water and use bottled water.
And how are children exposed to lead?
We’ve come up with something called the Flint Registry supported by the Centers for Disease Control, where we are identifying those exposed. Most importantly helping them connect with services that enhance their health and development and keep track of them over time. We’re starting to get that data right now on how the kids and even adult populations are doing. … There are developmental and behavioral concerns and many other potential issues that could be associated with this water crisis.
It’s dinner with a friend from high school, an environmental engineer, to start your studies.
So we went out, had a drink, the kids were playing, my husband was roasting. That’s when she shared that the water was not properly treated and that it lacked a key ingredient called corrosion control, something I had never heard of before. And without this ingredient, there is lead in the water.
What I knew at that time was that my life would never be the same. When I hear the word “lead”, there is no turning back, only going forward. As a pediatrician, as a public health practitioner, we know what lead works for. It is an irreversible powerful nerve agent. There is no safety level. We respect science about what lead does. And when I heard that word in my home, in my kitchen, with my high school girlfriend, I knew what to do.
Women of the century: Rita Moreno about courage (still tough), her journey (not yet finished), and the importance of listening (we have to do better)
Women of the century: Ruby Bridges was 6 years old when she entered an isolated school. Now, she teaches the kids to overcome racial differences.
So, did you look at the children’s blood work to find higher lead exposure?
Yes. The research I did was to see if children could be harmed by lead in the water. The curators kept saying everything was fine, and no problem, all mothers, activists and journalists and water scientists were discredited and fired. when they raise any concerns.
I know that if I can spoil this crisis, I will have to prove that our children are being harmed. I have tried to get that data from our state and county health departments. However, they are not willing to share that information. So I quickly conducted the research using the lead blood data from our own medical records in the hospital (Hurley Children’s Hospital). That study will probably take a six-month period. It was like a weekly problem because I couldn’t sleep. I really can’t sleep without knowing what’s going on with our kids. I also stopped eating. I have lost about 30 pounds.
Tell me about your parents, your childhood, your background.
I was not in this country. It was not in my parents master plan. And I think like most immigrants, that was never part of anyone’s plan. We are Iraqi; My father is completing his studies in the UK. My brother was only a year older than me was born in Baghdad, and we intend to return home. And it was during the late 1970s that Saddam Hussein’s regime began to become more powerful. My parents saw and feared the rise of fascism in Iraq. They realize that it might not be a good idea to return home, especially with two young children.
Even though we as a family could come to the United States, my parents never shielded us from what’s going on back home. From the atrocities, the rise of oppression and the dictatorship. And I feel that no matter where I am or wherever I am, we have a role to play, especially bringing injustices to light.
A car accident sparked your interest in medicine. Can you talk about that?
(On a winter vacation) I’m about 5 years old; we ran into a patch of black ice. The car changed direction, it went back and forth across the railing. This was before the seat belts. Me and my brother sat in the back seat and I was softly like a feather. With every passing time with the car, I was thrown in each direction. After that, we landed in a ditch. I don’t know how help came, but the help came, and I’m in the hospital with a broken neck and a broken jaw.
So I am fortunate to be here. And it was when I was in the hospital that I remember being taken care of by an amazing doctor, a woman with brown hair, brown eyes and dark skin like me, who reassured me, my family, my mother very limit. English, and who told me I would be fine.
That really got me interested in medicine and services. And little did I know that 30 years later I would be the one in the white coat, telling another community that they were also involved in an accident that wasn’t their fault. But it is my job to make sure they will be all right.
How can you stay in power during the Flint crisis? What keeps you going?
My Children, My Flint Children. When I am not at home, (my children) will tell you that she is not at home, she is living with our 6,000 brothers and sisters. My Flint kids are no different than my kids. And that’s what makes me who I am. That is their promise, their potential.
The Flint story, not an isolated one. There are kids who grow up in conditions where their life trajectories are altered by their environment. It could be poisoning or it could be poverty, or lack of food or dilapidated schools, or the continuing effects of racism and discrimination or unsafe housing. This list goes on over and over again as too many of our children limit their promises.
Much of my job at Flint is actually asking the kids to rise up and be successful despite all the heavy burdens on their shoulders. We are thinking about it the wrong way. We applaud and honor the children who defy the great obstacles have been able to succeed and go to college and do something of their own. And we shouldn’t celebrate these exceptions, we should create those environments, systems where all children can succeed.
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.