By Lydia Denworth
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Extra resources for Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle over Lead
It could cause anemia and muscular weakness or paralysis as well as extreme dizziness. It could affect sight and hearing. In the worst cases, it brought on kidney failure, convulsions, comas, and death. At the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Needleman heard only one lecture on lead poisoning. In the 1950s, physicians didn’t fully know all the ways in which lead was damaging the body, but they had developed a straightforward treatment for children whose lead levels were high enough to bring on clinical symptoms.
By then, he had been named chief resident at the Children’s. He enforced a new rule: In the summertime, any child with any possible symptom of lead poisoning—vomiting, anemia, staggering, and so on—would be given a blood lead test. Assume lead poisoning until proven otherwise, he told his staff. Even so, the young doctors sometimes missed the signs. Charles Reilly, one of Needleman’s assistant residents, spent two years in Ohio before coming to Children’s Hospital. “We had not seen lead poisoning in Akron, or if we did, we didn’t diagnose it,” he says.
He didn’t have any authority except moral authority,” says Phillips, “but he took on a few people over that. ” After his internship, Needleman did a one-year research fellowship in rheumatic fever at the Children’s and then was called up for Army service. When he finished his stint at Fort Meade, the physician-in-charge at the Children’s, Joseph Stokes, welcomed him back The Faces of the Children 35 and made him chief resident the next year. ” Needleman seemed to live at the hospital. “I don’t know when he slept.