The curiosity of an energetic preschooler from Brewer produced a troubling event Sunday that her mother hopes won’t have lasting repercussions.
The hazel-eyed tyke pricked her finger on an insulin syringe she found in a trash canister in a bathroom at McDonald’s Restaurant in Brewer, according to her mother. The child’s parents hope the needle stick won’t result in an infection, hepatitis or worse for their child, namely AIDS.
The girl’s mother, Pauline Walton, is asking anyone with information about an orange-capped needle syringe that was placed in a trash receptacle in the women’s restroom at McDonald’s Restaurant on Wilson Street in Brewer to contact her.
Walton’s telephone number is 989-3926.
A second-year welding student at Eastern Maine Technical College, Walton said she and the child’s father took their daughter to supper at McDonald’s, one of the child’s favorite places. The parents declined to release the name of the child.
At about 5:20 p.m., mother and child went to the restroom which has two stalls, said Walton.
“I went in one stall and she went into another to go to the bathroom. I heard the thud of the trash can lid close and I asked what she was doing. She said `I was in the trash,”‘ Walton recalled.
The mother opened the stall door to a terrifying sight.
“[She] had an insulin syringe in her hand. She had poked herself in the thumb. She said no when I first asked her, but I squeezed her fingers and when I squeezed her thumb, two drops of blood came out,” Walton said.
Walton reported the incident to the restaurant’s manager.
Gary Eckmann, who owns the restaurant and eight other McDonald’s facilities in Greater Bangor, confirmed Monday that Walton had reported the needle stick.
Needle sticks are fairly common. In fact, Pat Bond, director of community health nurses in Bangor, said she has heard of it happening quite a few times. Incidents similar to the Brewer event have been recorded nationally. Needle sticks should not be taken lightly, said Bond, who urged the parents to seek a baseline test for HIV and other follow-up treatment for their child.
Walton said she has made an appointment for her child to see her doctor and would take appropiate advice.
A panicked trip to the emergency room at Eastern Maine Medical Center Sunday night did not produce answers for the child, her mother or her father, Chris Dana. The mother said a hospital staff member who talked to the child and her parents said the syringe was used for insulin and since it had no blood or other liquid left in it, it could not be tested. The medical staffer referred them to their pediatrician and advised the parents to seek an HIV test in six months, Walton said.
An Eastern Maine Medical Center spokesperson said privacy laws prevent the hospital from commenting on the child’s treatment.
“We cannot release any information without written permission from the family,” said Nancy Ballard, director of community relations.
Dr. Robert Pinsky, hospital epidemiologist at EMMC and St. Joseph Hospital, said the risk of contracting AIDS was minimal for people in circumstances similar to the girl’s.
Even in cases when a person is stuck with a needle used by a known AIDS patient, the risk averages 1 in 250 of contracting the disease, Pinsky said.
The risk of contracting hepatitis from a needle stick is “10 times greater” than that of contracting AIDS, Pinsky said.
Nationally, 52 health care workers have contracted AIDS from needle sticks, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Calls to the girl’s pediatrician Monday by her parents revealed the child has had a series of vaccinations for hepatitis B, dispelling that worry for child and parents. Hepatitis A, for which children are not vaccinated, is spread through contaminated food and other material, not blood.
Still, the girl’s mother said she spent a sleepless night Sunday reliving the few seconds earlier that day that may have changed her child’s life, and health, forever.
“I was frantic,” said Walton, 26. Her anxiety prompted her to call the Bangor Daily News to place a classified ad in hopes of finding the needle’s owner. “I just want to know what was in that needle,” Walton said.
Staff in the classified department referred her to the editorial section of the newspaper.
This is the first time in Eckmann’s 13 years of owning McDonald’s restaurants, and his 34 years of association with McDonald’s, that he recalls such an occurrence, Eckmann said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
Eckmann said it was “unfortunate it happened.” He said he did not believe any of the employees at the Brewer store are diabetic.
Insulin needles are “commonplace things,” Eckmann said. “A lot of people with diabetes take insulin, and there’s a proper way of disposing of those needles.”
The needle had not been properly disposed of, according to nurse Bond who called the needle’s owner “irresponsible and inconsiderate.”
Diabetes patients who use insulin are educated on how to dispose of the needles, Bond said. They should be put in receptacles marked `hazard’, Bond said.
“A trash can in McDonald’s is not the proper way to dispose of insulin needles,” said Bond.