Donna Downing's daughter continually woke up in the middle of the night screaming about stomach pains. The youngster had lost her appetite and was having trouble moving her bowels.
"It was gradually that she had these symptoms," said Downing, 36. "We didn't think that it was serious. We thought she just had a stomach ache or something . . . "
After taking the toddler to the doctor, Downing and her husband discovered that it was more serious: Their daughter had lead poisoning.
It would take them several more months to realize the source of the contamination, they said - two toy dolls, "Sing-Along Elmo" and "Dora the Explorer."
Yesterday, Downing and her daughter, Kaaliyah Smith, now 3 and suffering from anemia, went to Washington, D.C., along with other families from around the country affected by lead in toys. They knocked on the doors of Congress members, urging them to pass legislation that could require toy manufacturers to reduce the level of lead in their products.
"Sometimes it's difficult when members of Congress and their staff only hear from paid lobbyists. . . . These children that went with their parents today were all severely lead-poisoned," said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, which invited the families.
After several toy recalls, the Senate and House have passed bills to improve toy safety. Those bills take different steps to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Downing and the others urged that a compromise be reached on a single bill in time for the holiday toy season.
After receiving her Dora toy for Christmas, Kaaliyah started experiencing stomach pain and constipation. Downing took her to a doctor, only to find out that her blood-lead level had increased from about 10 to 37.
Public-health authorities assessed the family's home in Sharon Hill, Delaware County, and Kaaliyah's nearby day-care center, and found no traces of lead, Downing said.
Later she heard about a Mattel toy recall, and found her daughter's toys in an online list of those recalled.
"At that point I contacted Mattel to see if they could test my daughter's toys . . . They told me that the toys were not purchased in the time frame [of when the recalled products were sold] and that they could not help me," Downing said by phone from Washington.