Child Safety Advocate Leslie Bangamba Turns Trauma Into Knowledge
Trigger Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of medical circumstances (including miscarriage and child hospitalization etc.) that may cause distressing psychological or physical reactions, especially in people who have previously experienced a related trauma.
Leslie Bangamba is the mother of Andwele, 10, Akeem, 6, and Amélie, 2.5 years-old. When she discovered she was pregnant with her daughter, it was a happy surprise. Having suffered a miscarriage, she was thrilled after giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl, whom she lovingly refers to as her “rainbow baby.” While Leslie’s pregnancy and labor story were relatively without issue, 18 months after Amélie’s birth, things took a terrifying turn, ultimately leading Leslie to become a child safety advocate. Here, she shares her story:
At first, I thought it was food poisoning. We were not trying to get pregnant. I had just started this great full-time job. I was getting through a miscarriage by throwing myself into work.
When I learned I was pregnant with Amélie, I didn’t want to get excited. I was due in November and I didn’t announce it until August or September. I was scared to celebrate, not knowing what would happen. That feeling was magnified when I found out I was having a girl. I thought, if I don’t get to hold my daughter, I will be devastated. I will celebrate once she’s in my arms. When I delivered Amélie, I breathed a sigh of relief that she was finally in my arms. I just stared into her eyes and breathed in her essence.
Amélie would grow, hitting all her milestones and one day, she was cutting about two teeth. We took her temperature, gave her Tylenol, gave her all of the extra cuddles and snuggles. The morning of the incident, her appetite had come back. I thought she was getting back to her normal self.
I was loading my dishwasher. She was on the kitchen floor playing with Tupperware. She made this sound, like I could hear oxygen leaving her body. She collapsed. I went to grab her. Her body felt so stiff and her eyes were rolling to the back of her head and then blood started to pour out of her nose. I panicked. I was by myself. Her lips were going blue.
I picked her up and ran outside, banging on my neighbor’s door. I was yelling and crying in the middle of the street for help. The ambulance came in what felt like forever. They did CPR. I heard her crying for me. When we got to the hospital, they asked me what happened. But I didn’t know.
They did an x-Ray and it showed this halo—like a nickel in her esophagus. The pediatrician said they thought it was a battery. In my mind, I was picturing a double A, triple A, a rectangular battery. It didn’t make sense. The doctors then said it looked like a lithium coin battery. They were going to intubate her and bring her to a different hospital.
Within 15-minutes of arriving at the ICU, the nurse ran out and told me my daughter had gone into cardiac arrest. I saw them doing chest compressions. The machine was flatlining. Picture the most dramatic scene from Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s real life.
Amélie got a faint pulse back and they let my husband come up despite COVID restrictions. In hindsight, I believe they let him come up because I think they thought she was going to die. And just as he got there, she went into cardiac arrest again. This time it was a huge struggle to get a faint pulse back. They took us into another room and told us to wait. The doctor told us it didn’t look good. That she needed open heart surgery to take the battery out.
The battery had ruptured her esophagus, her trachea, her aorta, and her carotid artery. The rupture in her carotid artery caused her to suffer a stroke. She had subdural bleeding on the right side of her brain. She required over four liters of blood to be transfused into her and would require more throughout the first week in the pediatric ICU.
Throughout the surgery, every time the doctors would come into the room we were in, it felt like the knock of death. Finally, the chief cardiologist—I remember him as the most jubilant man—came in and exclaimed, “the battery is out!”
The first time we got to see her, I didn't even recognize my baby. She was in the Pediatric ICU for 12/13 days and then transferred to Inpatient for rehabilitation. We spent a total of 37 Days at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
In the days, weeks, and months following, we learned when a battery touches saliva, it creates an electrical current that begins to burn through tissue. So, even after the battery had been removed, the chemicals of the battery had burnt a hole between her esophagus and her windpipe. Food and air would have been going in the wrong place.
This created issues: It was another COVID test. It was pneumonia. It was blood clots. It was blood thinners. It was bleeding in her brain. It was a nightmare. I don’t know how she survived it. Her medical team was so amazing. She healed like a wolverine, as my cousin said.
To this day, I don't know where she got that battery. It sounds corny, but I’m turning my trauma to purpose. This is the healthiest way for me to work through what I'm personally going through as a mom. To help educate other people, not just moms, all people.
Be aware of everything in your home that takes batteries, but specifically lithium coin batteries and button batteries: the little circular ones. Education is key.
Things that I don’t utilize, I’m mindful of where they are. When batteries die, I now properly dispose of them. Even if the battery is dead and in its intended device, it can still give off a current if ingested. You can do a battery recycling program or have a key area where you keep your batteries locked up, so children don’t have access to them. It only takes one second. I would welcome parents to visit the Duracell website for more information on battery safety.