Happy Tuesday everyone! Today, I am SO excited to welcome a new contributor to the blog, Leslie Bangamba. I discovered Leslie’s account through a company that is so near and dear to my heart, Smash + Tess. After landing on Leslie’s page, I learned that she is a mama to 3 gorgeous kiddos, a blogger and a child safety advocate. Leslie suffered a great deal of trauma after her two-year-old, Amélie ingested a lithium coin battery. Today, Leslie is sharing how she found purpose after experiencing so much trauma and started advocating for child safety!
Please note that Leslie’s story and some of the photos may be sensitive to some readers so we have added a trigger warning here!
Take it away, Leslie!
Hi you beautiful souls! My name is Leslie Bangamba and I am mom to the A-team and a Child Safety Advocate! Andwele is my nine-year-old inquisitive son, Akeem is the family comedian and my second son, and Amélie is my sweet and feisty warrior two-year-old daughter. I’m going to be sharing how I found purpose after trauma. I can assure you this will not be a sappy hallmark story, but one of hope, miracles, and resilience. The biggest takeaway is how to keep young children safe from a common household item, lithium coin batteries, and practicing battery safety in our homes. If you would like to follow along on our family’s journey and funny antics you can follow me @lesliebangamba on IG and lesliebangamba on Facebook.
Our tragedy began on April 9th, 2020 when my then 18-month-old daughter Amélie suddenly collapsed on the kitchen floor. Within seconds blood started gushing from her nose. I frantically ran out of my house seeking help from my neighbours. We would be transported to the Regional Hospital in Red Deer, AB where Amélie would be intubated and later taken to the Stollery Children’s Hospital a few hours away in Edmonton by ambulance. Fifteen minutes after arriving at the Stollery Children’s Hospital she went into cardiac arrest twice (my heart stopped whenever I saw flat lines across the monitor), she would undergo an emergency open-heart surgery, be placed on a heart-lung bypass machine, and her esophagus, trachea, aorta, carotid left artery required extensive repair. Amélie received over four liters of blood, suffered a stroke, and bleeding outside of the brain. The cause: a lithium coin battery. Time truly stood still for me as I was taken to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit to see Amélie for the 1st time post-surgery. My sweet baby girl was not recognizable to me. Her face swollen, a myriad of tubes connected to her tiny body, and the metallic smell of blood still haunts me. I felt sheer grief, the type that takes physical control of your mind and body, helplessness, and a flood of guilt that I hadn’t protected my daughter.
We spent thirty-seven days at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. When Amélie was discharged I grappled with a host of emotions. Of course, I was relieved and so grateful that she survived this incident, but I questioned my value and ability to be a mother. How could this have happened? How did I not know she had ingested a foreign object? How did she ever come across a lithium coin battery? She’s my third child – these types of accidents shouldn’t happen, and so many more guilt-ridden thoughts. At the same time, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that her story had to be shared to save other children from the same fate or worse. I recalled all the moments the various attending physicians would mention this injury being on the rise and that there wasn’t enough awareness and education. Also, during my daily prayers, I made a promise to God that if she survived this injury, I would raise awareness. If you are a believer, you know such declarations cannot be reneged. Amélie survived and I was left wondering how to fulfill my end of the bargain – whew.
Initially I thought to myself, “someone else can take the lead on this and I will gladly lend my voice.” But as I watched Amélie recover from this trauma day by day – intensive rehabilitation to learn how to stand, move the right side of her body which was affected post stroke, and walk again – it became clear I needed to stop playing small and relying on others to tell our story. If her story was going to be told and have a positive impact, I had to share my lived experience. It was then that I embarked on cold-emailing everyone and anyone that I could think of. Warning guardians of young children became an urgent calling because I never wanted any other parent or guardian to go through the trauma we had experienced or worse. It initially started with an interview by CTV Edmonton (Sarah Plowman thank-you for responding to my cold email), and then Canadian Blood Services. I even did a feature with one of Jillian’s favourite brands Smash + Tess! I was grateful for every opportunity but knew in my heart I needed to have my voice amplified even more.
One day a good friend texted me a media release about a new Duracell Lithium Coin Battery with bitter coating. This non-toxic bitter coating on the battery was designed to help prevent accidental ingestion. I immediately reached out to Duracell to thank them for being thoughtful corporate citizens and offered to champion this innovative product. When Duracell contacted me, not only did they listen to our story but they amplified my voice. I’m proud to share Amélie’s story is now officially on Duracell’s website, and here are important tips on how to keep your young children safe. I can’t emphasize it enough to keep lithium coin batteries safely out of reach from small children and being aware of which devices in our home take these batteries and keeping them secure. This collaboration was a major accomplishment for me, especially since I am new to the advocacy arena and knew that I had to take up space. There aren’t a lot of people that look like me. I know this is just the beginning of turning our trauma into blessings to educate and help others.
*This post was sponsored by Duracell, but the opinions expressed are my own.
Last year to celebrate Amélie’s 2nd Birthday our family decided to raise funds for the Stollery Hospital Foundation. All funds raised are crucial to ensuring the Stollery Children’s Hospital can invest in the right people, programs, equipment, and research! Our goal was $1K and we would donate $1K of proceeds from our Gofundme. We ended up raising over $4K! In addition to fundraising, I’ve also become active in highlighting the importance of blood donation. If it weren’t for selfless blood donors it would’ve been impossible for Amélie to survive. Over half of all Canadians are eligible to donate blood and yet less than 4% do. The number one reason people don’t donate? They’ve never been asked! So if you’re in a position to do so please consider it.
We still have a long and unknown road ahead with Amélie. She is now primarily fed via a gastrointestinal tube (tube that brings nutrition directly to her stomach) until she learns how to swallow again safely. Regular follow-ups to the Stollery Children’s Hospital and ongoing Occupational Therapy are now a given part of our future, but we are just so grateful for the miracle we call Amélie. I want to wrap up by reminding YOU that we all have impact. You have to decide to show up, believe in yourself, and do the work. It does not mean it will go as planned (spoiler alert – it never does) but you’ll be proud of yourself for every incremental step forward.