Toddler swallows crack cocaine and will remain a baby for life

November 23, 1990|By Cox News Service

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Michael Brown Jr. sits in a small swing, his hands clenched and legs rigid as he stares into the distance. He cries for no reason and ignores the world around him.

Curiosity -- and crack -- robbed the 15-month-old toddler of a normal life.

Almost five weeks ago, Michael ate pieces of crack cocaine that police say were left on a table in his mother's Pompano Beach apartment. The boy suffered violent seizures, which caused severe brain damage, and he lapsed into a coma.

Although a life-threatening period has passed, there's little hope Michael will ever be able to care for himself, says his doctor at Plantation General Hospital.

"In his situation, unfortunately, there's no way he's going to improve. The only thing we can do is maintain him the way he is and give him support," says Dr. Arcenio Chacon, who specializes in pediatric intensive care.

"He'll be a baby the rest of his life."

According to police reports, the boy crawled out of bed the morning of Oct. 16 and began walking around the living room. His parents still were asleep in their one-bedroom apartment.

He found the drugs -- 21 pieces of cooked cocaine wrapped in a paper napkin -- on the coffee table and ate some of them. His mother, LaShella Allen, 18, told investigators she took a piece of cocaine from the child's mouth when she woke up.

Later, Allen and the baby's father, Michael Brown, 19, were walking to a bus stop when the boy began having seizures. The couple flagged down a ride and took the boy to the hospital.

Michael was in a coma and on life support for four days. When he regained consciousness, the neurological damage had been done.

It is unlikely Michael will be reunited with his parents, say Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services officials. Allen was charged with child abuse, Brown with possession of cocaine.

Based on tests and examinations, Chacon says, he believes Michael may be able to feed himself when he gets older but will learn little else. He may live to be 40.

Caring for Michael has been difficult for nurses at Plantation General's pediatrics intensive care unit.

"There's no way you can make this kid smile," says nurse Kathy O'Connor. "When he's upset, there's not a thing in this world you can do. . . . When he's asleep, you can pinch him hard, and he's not going to wake up. He seems to hear, but he doesn't see things."

The search for a foster family may be difficult. It will have to be a special family, one able to cope emotionally, psychologically and financially with Michael's needs, says HRS spokesman Ruben Betancourt.

"When we find little children, young healthy children, everybody wants to adopt them," he says. "It's going to be a task to find someone to take care of this child."

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