FLINT WATER Focus on Flint: September 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: You have read the headlines — Flint is on its way back to recovery. But when you go beyond the headlines, you find out that Virginia Tech’s Mark Edwards, the noted lead expert, says it is still unsafe to drink the water. And the fact that no one has contracted Legionnaire’s disease isn’t what I call setting a high bar for the water standards in Flint. You have websites and Facebook pages created solely to help Flint—like Flint Rising, an activist organization and watchdog over local and state government agencies and Flint Cares, a nonpolitical partnership made up of 120 nonprofits, churches, grass –root organizations, individuals and residents working together to create short, intermediate and long term solutions related to the crisis. Yes, it is still a crisis — it isn’t going away and when are ALL Michigan residents, churches and organizations going to commit their own time and effort to help our Flint brothers and sisters?

Another Mama bear — those were my first thoughts when I walked into Michigan Faith in Action’s offices in the basement of St. Mike’s and saw Gina Luster. There was a purpose — a deliberateness–in all of her movements. She was on a mission.

Gina Luster moved back to Flint from Texas to be with family. She did not know that move would change her life and the health of her family permanently.

When we were introduced and she knew I was a reporter of sorts, she asked me, “Why are our water costs going up? Some water bills are as high as $500 a month. We need to find out what’s behind it—we can’t afford to pay for water we aren’t using.”

I haven’t found a reasonable answer to those questions yet.

Gina was a successful store manager at a retail shop in Flint. She lives with her eight year old daughter Kennedy in an apartment on the Flint Township line. Her landlord told everyone their water was safe because they were technically not in the city.

He was wrong. Gina and her daughter drank the water for months—contaminated water. And then Gina began feeling fatigued; she had bouts of dehydration with diarrhea and vomiting. She missed work because of it. She began to lose her hair — still is. Then one day at work she passed out—for over five minutes. Taken to the hospital, they told her it was probably just a virus. She overheard nurses say she was the third person that week to pass out at work. The doctors said lead poisoning was a “possibility” but won’t or can’t confirm it. They have not given Gina a reason for her health issues.

Insert_Sept16_Gina_LusterBut she didn’t get better—and then her daughter Kennedy began to complain of aches and her skin had “lizard-like patches”, according to Gina. In March 2015, Gina got a call from the school stating that Kennedy was scratching so much she was bleeding.

“I took Kennedy to the doctor for tests. I got a call the next day from the doctor. She was alarmed—Kennedy had NO Vitamin D in her body. The lead had already gone to her organs and most likely her bones. They immediately put her on medication,” said Gina.

Then Gina got a letter from her store’s corporate offices saying they were letting her go because she had missed so many work days due to illness but “could reapply at a future time.”

Now out of work, Gina can’t afford to send Kennedy to a private school and is scheduled to go to a public elementary school. “It worries me terribly—not only does Kennedy now have health problems, she has to adjust to a new school and make new friends. I know she can do it but the public schools have increasing problems due to the effects of the lead poisoning,” said Gina.

“I couldn’t just sit and do nothing so I called my 83 year-old grandmother in Arkansas who steered me toward natural remedies. That’s how I found out goat milk soap does help our skin,” said Gina. She didn’t stop there—she checked out different herbs and oils and continues to research nutrition. “I have to do all I can to keep Kennedy healthy.”

Even though Gina is out of work, she volunteers at a phone bank—she, like other Flint women we have interviewed, has become an activist—both politically and as a volunteer.

(At deadline we found out that a routine checkup after placing Kennedy on Vitamin D supplements found she still had no Vitamin D in her body. Gina says the doctors are “alarmed” and doubled her dose—Kennedy is now on about 1200 units of Vitamin D daily. She is to be rechecked in 90 days.)

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