December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Here's wishing you lots of eye contact in 2006!

FDA to Check Tuna for Mercury

FDA to check tuna
U.S. to investigate mercury levels in canned fish
By Sam Roe
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 31, 2005

The Food and Drug Administration will investigate whether tens of millions of cans of tuna sold each year contain potentially hazardous levels of mercury.

Responding to a Tribune series this month on mercury in fish, the FDA said it will review the possibility that there are elevated mercury levels in some cans of "light tuna," one of America's best-selling seafoods and a product the agency has recommended repeatedly as a low-mercury choice.

The Tribune revealed that the U.S. tuna industry is using a potentially high-mercury tuna species, yellowfin, to make about 15 percent of the 1.2 billion cans of light tuna sold annually. Most of these cans are not labeled yellowfin, making it impossible for consumers to know which cans might be high in mercury.

In an interview, David Acheson, the FDA's chief medical officer, said the agency had been unaware that some canned light tuna was made with a species that often is high in mercury.

"We will definitely look at it through our office of seafood and determine whether there is something that requires further pursuit," Acheson said. He could not say exactly what the investigation would entail or whether the agency would conduct additional testing of canned tuna.

The chief lobbying group for the leading tuna producers--StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea--said the industry would cooperate with the FDA inquiry. The executive director of the U.S. Tuna Foundation, David Burney, said canned light tuna was not a health risk and that its mercury levels were well below government limits. "It's a non-issue," Burney said.

But top consumer and environmental groups called on the tuna industry to stop using yellowfin in canned light tuna.

"It's unforgivable," said Linda Greer, a toxicologist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading conservation group. She said it was ironic that "efforts to recommend canned light tuna to people is undermined by industry shoving contaminated fish into the wrong cans."

Almost all of the mercury that people are exposed to comes from eating fish tainted with the toxic metal. Because mercury can harm the developing central nervous system, young children and fetuses are most at risk.

Children exposed to dangerous levels of mercury can suffer subtle learning difficulties, including delays in walking and talking. Adults can experience headaches, fatigue, loss of concentration and numbness in the hands and feet.

While the mercury content in canned yellowfin tuna varies, the industry said the average is about three times higher than that of regular canned light, which generally is made with skipjack, a smaller tuna species with lower mercury levels.

Canned yellowfin, the industry said, has about as much mercury as canned albacore, a product the federal government has warned at-risk groups about because of high amounts of the toxic metal. In 2004, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly warned young children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age to not eat more than 6 ounces of canned albacore per week.

But no warning exists for canned yellowfin.

The FDA-EPA warning also states that canned light tuna is low in mercury and therefore a wise choice for at-risk groups.

Canned light tuna does have relatively low amounts of mercury on average, but the levels can vary widely. John Stiker, a former Bumble Bee executive, said the use of yellowfin in canned light might result in some cans testing high. A can of light tuna with low levels of mercury might consist of skipjack, Stiker explained, while a can testing high might be solely yellowfin.

`Just plain wrong'

Michael Bender, head of the Mercury Policy Project, a non-profit advocacy group based in Vermont, said the tuna industry's practice of putting yellowfin into canned light without appropriate labels is "just plain wrong."

"If the public doesn't know what species they are eating, they have no way to tell if the product has low, medium or high amounts of mercury," he said.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the revelation that yellowfin is in light tuna makes the federal government's mercury warning "even less protective."

The Tribune series reported that about 180 million cans of light tuna are made with yellowfin each year. Half of those cans are marketed as a gourmet product. StarKist calls its product "Gourmet's Choice," Chicken of the Sea markets a "Tonno" product under the Genova label and Bumble Bee offers a "Tonno in olive oil" variety. Of those, only Genova identifies its product as yellowfin.

As part of its series, the Tribune bought 18 cans of gourmet tuna from area stores and tested them for mercury. The results showed low levels of the toxic metal: 0.06 parts of mercury per million parts of fish tissue, far lower than the 0.35 parts per million average reported by the tuna industry.

Stiker said he was surprised by the results and speculated that Chicago had received shipments of gourmet cans made with small, young yellowfin that would be low in mercury because the toxic metal accumulates up the food chain.

Industry fights warnings

In recent years the tuna industry, fearing class-action lawsuits and a drop in sales, has opposed government efforts to warn consumers about mercury in tuna, federal records show. The industry is especially concerned about warnings regarding canned light tuna, which accounts for 65 percent of all cans of tuna sold. Albacore makes up 35 percent.

Since the Tribune series was published, the Tuna Foundation has defended the use of yellowfin in light tuna.

In an interview, Burney, the foundation director, said gourmet canned tuna is not light tuna but rather "a completely different product."

But gourmet cans prominently say "light tuna" on the labels.

Burney responded to that discrepancy by saying the gourmet canned product "is set off by itself in the stores if you go and get it. It's not set with the cans of light-meat tuna."

But when the Tribune bought gourmet tuna at 18 groceries for its mercury testing, each store sold the gourmet cans alongside the other cans of tuna, which often have similar labels.

The biggest difference is often price: The gourmet version can sell for $1 more.

Burney said consumers who buy light tuna to avoid mercury exposure will not purchase the gourmet cans.

"I think price alone would stop you from getting it," he said, "and I think that it is only sold to people that know what they are getting."

The Tribune also reported that some yellowfin not used in gourmet cans is packaged and sold as regular canned light. Stiker told the Tribune that the industry often catches more yellowfin than it can sell in its gourmet line. So the remainder is sold as regular light tuna without any special labels.

Until recently, Stiker had been Bumble Bee's executive vice president of corporate development and a leading industry spokesman. He left the company Dec. 9, two days before the Tribune published its mercury series. Stiker and Bumble Bee said he was leaving on good terms to head a small coffee company.

Spokesman contradicted

When the Tribune first contacted the Tuna Foundation in July for comment regarding the mercury issue, the lobbying group referred the newspaper to Stiker. But the Tuna Foundation now says it disagrees with a statement Stiker made repeatedly in interviews with the newspaper: that it is an industrywide practice to put yellowfin that cannot be sold as a gourmet product into regular canned light.

StarKist and Chicken of the Sea referred questions to the Tuna Foundation. Burney said that while he did not know for sure how Bumble Bee handled yellowfin, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea did not add any fish to regular canned light that would raise the average mercury levels.

He said that when those two companies catch tuna, they separate the large yellowfin from the small ones on the boats. The large yellowfin, which can be higher in mercury, are sent to canneries to be packed as a gourmet product. The small yellowfin, he said, are mixed with skipjack of comparable size and mercury levels, in order to make regular canned light.

Stiker declined to comment on the Tuna Foundation questioning his statements. "I'm done on this topic," he wrote in an e-mail.


Autism: An Epidemic Is Finally Acknowledged

Autism: An Epidemic Is Finally Acknowledged
Government agency takes first step to protect our children
James Ottar Grundvig
Special to The Epoch Times
Dec 30, 2005

BEVERLY HILLS: Actor Dustin Hoffman speaks at the 2005 Cure Autism Now's 10th Anniversay Gala last November. Hoffman is known for his convincing portrayal of a man stricken with autism in the film Rain Man.

The year 2005 will be a year to remember in the autism epidemic: The debate came to a head between parents of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) children and the federal government, which has long denied an autism epidemic exists.

The ebb and flow has turned in the favor of these long-neglected children, who today number well over one million in the United States alone. Governmental agencies in charge of children's health and the pediatric-psychiatry-pharmaceutical axis had erected a wall to protect their errant policies regarding baby vaccinations. In 2005 that wall began to shows signs of cracking.

Turning Points

The turning point came not as a single event, but a timely confluence of several streams. In April, New York Times contributing writer, David Kirby, came out with the book "Evidence of Harm" that tied the increase in vaccines to the rise in autism. Others, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and radio show host Don Imus drove the vaccines-mercury-autism debate home last summer. The efforts of these high-profile individuals combined with those of autism not-for-profit organizations and parents like myself—who have filed a deluge of vaccine-injury cases on behalf of their children in the "vaccine court" created in 1986 by Congress—to help remove the shadow of ignorance from autism. The prevailing hypothesis that autism is a psychological disease rooted solely in genetics was debunked.

In 2005 Iowa and California became the first states to ban thimerosal, the mercury-based preservative used in many baby vaccines. For a long time, most parents of ASD kids have suspected that thimerosal was the major culprit in the sharp rise of autism cases, particularly the regressive form of the disorder. New York State jumped into the act by passing a law that will ban thimerosal from vaccines. The only problem: the law won't go into affect until 2009. Better late than never. I suspect those states, which will undoubtedly be followed by others in the coming years, realized that with the spike in autism comes a spike in costs for special education and healthcare that has placed an enormous burden on the tax coffers. Yet none of those states' actions against thimerosal would have been necessary if the federal government, namely the CDC and FDA, had acted in 1999.

Where Has the Federal Government Been?

Seven years ago, those agencies were warned, informed, and had ample opportunity to ban the known neurological toxin, but failed to do so. Because of their inaction, tens of thousands of babies born since 2000, including my son, won a most unfortunate lottery. America's ASD children were given vaccines with just enough thimerosal to shutdown their ability to filter out heavy metals, while simultaneously poisoning their brains and central nervous systems.

Instead, the CDC suggested to the pharmaceutical companies, like Merck (maker of the hepatitis B "birth dose" vaccine) and Eli Lilly (grandfather of thimerosal, invented in the 1920s), to remove gradually this known toxin from vaccines. Of course, Merck & Co.'s suppression of the bad reports on the painkiller Vioxx, and subsequent attempts to keep Vioxx out of the courts and the press, provides an example of how Big Pharma can't be trusted. And the CDC's actions on thimerosal suggested the government might be too close sometimes to that industry.

So it came as a shock this December to learn that ASD children were receiving an early holiday present, gift wrapped by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Although barely covered in the news, the NIMH finally admitted that autism is an epidemic. And genetics alone can't cause epidemics, since genes only mutate from one generation to the next. The cause for the epidemic might still be an issue, but such a revelation in the wake of all those denials is the jump-start that is needed to make other guardians of our healthcare system look at the very least foolish, and at the worst promoters of terrible propaganda.

An Opportunity for Change

How should the Pediatric Association of America, which continues to state that vaccines are safe, take this news? And what about the legions of psychiatrists and psychologists who have long sold the mantra that there wasn't an epidemic, only people who were not properly trained in the past to diagnose autism in children? What do I think? They should be ashamed of themselves for choosing to protect vaccines over the health of children.

I grew up in a small town in Westchester County, north of New York City. In the 1960s, there were no children on the spectrum there, and that was for kindergarten through 12th grade. In the past year I learned that beside myself, three other students within two grades of my own (the average grade size was 120 kids per class) have ASD children. For me, nothing has been more powerful than that fact. All the denials, disinformation, and twisting of numbers of the amount of thimerosal in a given vaccine couldn't cloud the truth. Autism is an epidemic.

For the New Year, there will still be people, companies and agencies that deny there is an epidemic, let alone one caused by the over-use of vaccinations. Some are ignorant; while many will do anything to protect the status quo, due to the financial windfall that the twenty-plus vaccines given to each newborn baby within its first two years brings to the vaccine-makers.

Now is time for the CDC, FDA, the White House, and our congressmen and senators to join the NIMH and admit that autism is an epidemic. It is time for the news media, which have too often under-reported this plague of the twenty-first century, to do the same. Then maybe the frontline defenders of children—pediatricians and child psychologist—can come clean and join in chorus with the parents. That would be an enormous first step in defeating autism.

Until that day, there will be an epidemic. And it's not going away until those in charge of the American healthcare system admit they have crisis on its hand.

Its name is autism.

James Ottar Grundvig lives and works in New York City. He is the father of an autistic child.

Is That Old Gaming System Collecting Dust??

From Autism Cares:

Did your child get a new XBox, PSP, Gameboy or other video gaming system for Christmas? What will you do with the old one? We have a solution for you that will keep your closets uncluttered, and you can help a child in need!

Now that the presents have all been unwrapped, assembled, installed and the kids are playing, please pack up their old video game systems and any old games and send them to us! We will send them to children with autism who lost theirs in the hurricanes.

What we are currently accepting: Xbox, PS2, GameCube, gameboys (all types), accessories and game cartridges for all of these systems. We are also accepting PC computer games on CD only and V-smile, Leapster and LeapPad books, VideoNow systems and movies.

To participate, please email us at and we’ll send you shipping instructions.

Have a Happy New Years!


Holly Bortfeld
AutismCares Care Package Coordinator

AutismCares is a coalition of National Autism Organizations who have come together to help families dealing with autism who are victims of the Gulf Region Hurricanes.

TACA December Newsletter Is Up

Talk About Curing Autism

Moment of Silence

National Autism Association
December 31, 2005

Dear Friends,

NAA had planned to send out our last newsletter of the year highlighting what our autism community has accomplished together during 2005. It truly has been a remarkable year of progress for our children. But with the sudden and tragic passing of our friend, Liz Birt, we would rather reflect upon how any accomplishments for the sake of our children are only possible through the love and determination of parents.

The truth is, we would never have come this far without the tireless dedication of Liz Birt. Those of you who have read David Kirby's "Evidence of Harm" know how instrumental her accomplishments have been. Those of you who have had the pleasure of knowing Liz personally, know that she is irreplaceable and unforgettable.

Many folks will be unable to attend the services for Liz in Kansas City, but have expressed the desire to participate in bidding her farewell. We invite the online community to come together on Wednesday, January 4th at 9pm eastern to light a candle in Liz's honor and collectively observe a moment of silence, prayer and reflection.

Liz has taught us many things over the years. Her final lesson is of the fragility of life. Each day is a gift to be cherished. In this time of mourning and reflection, we are foregoing a newsletter until the New Year, when we will resume our work with renewed determination in honor of our dear friend.

Wishing you health and happiness in 2006,
The NAA Team

The Age of Autism: Gold Standards

The Age of Autism: Gold standards
UPI Senior Editor

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- A published scientific paper suggests gold salts -- the treatment that may have prompted improvement in the first child ever diagnosed with autism -- can affect mental conditions.

"Although there is very little modern research on these applications for gold, historically one notable use of gold was as a 'nervine,' a substance that could revitalize people suffering from nervous conditions, a term we would today call neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as epilepsy and depression," according to the paper, "Gold and its relationship to neurological/glandular conditions."

The paper appeared in 2002 in the International Journal of Neuroscience, co-authored by four researchers at the Meridian Institute, a Virginia-based non-profit group. It is online at

"Neither the causes of the disorders nor the mechanism of gold is known, yet there are reports pointing to a possible involvement of naturally-occurring gold in the nervous and glandular systems, and evidence from historical sources of a possible efficacy of gold in therapy for neurological disorders," write authors Douglas G. Richards, David L. McMillin, Eric A. Mein and Carl D. Nelson.

The paper, which we've alluded to before, is getting renewed attention among activists who believe that most cases of autism are caused by a mercury preservative used in childhood immunizations. While medical groups and federal health authorities discount any link, these researchers and parents say a huge rise in autism diagnoses beginning in the 1990s can be tied to the increasing number of vaccines containing the preservative, called thimerosal, which is about 50 percent ethyl mercury by weight.

The earliest year for which we could find evidence of thimerosal being used in vaccines was 1931. In August, Age of Autism reported that the first child ever diagnosed with autism -- Donald T., who was born in 1933 in Mississippi -- was treated with gold salts for an acute attack of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 12. His autism symptoms also showed significant improvement following the two-to-three-month gold-salts treatment at a clinic in Memphis, according to his brother, who we interviewed in the small Mississippi town where both still live.

That caught the attention of Boyd Haley, a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky and a leading proponent of the mercury-autism theory. In our last column we reported the results of a test he conducted to see whether gold salts would pull mercury off a chemical compound.

It did. Gold salts "can reverse the binding" of mercury to molecules, Haley said, adding, "This does lend support to the possible removal of mercury from biological proteins in individuals treated with gold salts."

The article by the Meridian Institute authors does not discuss whether gold might improve neurological conditions triggered by a toxic exposure such as mercury, and it does not mention autism. But it does provide a context for understanding why the compound might improve mental functioning and alleviate neurological disorders.

Intriguingly, the authors write that 19th-century scientists realized gold could help them explore the nervous system.

"The affinity of gold for the nervous system and the implications of this for the treatment of nervous disorders was remarked by (Dr. Leslie E.) Keeley (1897): 'The use of gold ... to develop microscopical nerves may, perhaps, be said to indicate that nerve fiber has a peculiar affinity for that metal. The application of it in solutions brings out nerves which otherwise would be invisible.

"'The development of lifeless microscopic nerves by a solution of gold may be in part owing to some of the recondite forces which cause the gold, taken into circulation, to reconstruct living ones.'"

Haley's hypothesis 108 years later sounds oddly similar: Gold, he thinks, might pull mercury "off the enzyme it's inhibiting and reactivate that enzyme."

If the idea that an element found in nature could affect mental functioning sounds bizarre, remember that it has already happened. The authors note that another element on the periodic table -- lithium -- has been used to treat bipolar disorder.

All this leaves proponents of the mercury-autism theory eager to see whether gold salts might be beneficial to any of the 250,000 Americans with autism, many of whom have not responded well to treatment. But they are equally concerned that a "gold rush," so to speak, could raise false hopes or -- far worse -- endanger children.

"Don't jump on this. Be careful. You can hurt kids," Haley told us before he began his test of gold salts. Even after it reversed the binding of mercury to molecules, Haley cautioned:

"The last thing the autism associations need is a bad experience on treating an autistic child. Extreme caution should be used with gold salts; just because the gold or thiolmalate (part of the gold salts) binds mercury in a test tube doesn't mean the gold salts will not be harmful to a young infant.

"Remember, the successful treatment was on a 12-year-old child if indeed the gold salts were the cause of his autism remission. Let's be exceptionally careful here and include every possible safety factor before we start any major clinical study."

One relatively simple test was suggested by a parent: Try gold salts -- which are still available by prescription -- on someone who has both rheumatoid arthritis, for which its effectiveness has been established, and autism, for which it has not.

The Meridian Institute authors made a similar suggestion. They proposed "attending to the side effects of gold medications where there is comorbidity of rheumatoid arthritis and a neurological, psychiatric, or glandular disorder. ...

"One could ask, do patients with epilepsy, depression, or adrenal insufficiency who may be receiving gold salts for arthritis show any improvement in neurological/glandular symptoms? Although neurological adverse effects are rare, beneficial side effects might be found."

As the calendar turns to 2006, the day may be coming when their question is answered.

December 30, 2005

Memorial Service for Liz Birt

From Liz's Friends,

Dearest Friends,

There will be a receiving of friends on Wednesday evening, January 4, 2006 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Newcomers, Steine and McClure Funeral Home located at 3235 Gilham Plaza in Kansas City, MO. (at the corner Linwood and Gilham)

Liz’s funeral will be held Thursday morning, January 5, 2006 at 11:30 a.m. at St. Peters Catholic Church, 6415 Holmes in Kansas City (at the corner of Meyer Blvd. and Holmes).

The Elizabeth Ann Birt Memorial Fund for Truth and Love has been set up to fund on-going research for the cause and cure of autism and to help the many families who have unmet financial needs for care and treatment of their affected children. Contributions can be sent to Thoughtful House in care of the Elizabeth Ann Birt Memorial Fund for Truth and Love. More details to follow.

Please respond to Laura Bono at if you will be attending the services. NAA will set up a block of rooms nearby and provide reservation information back to you. If you plan to fly, check with Southwest Airlines for special fares into Kansas City, MO.

If you would like to share your thoughts or memories of Liz, please visit To view a photo gallery, visit

Warm regards,
Liz's friends at SafeMinds and NAA

Worst T-Ball Coach Ever Makes Dumbest Legal Maneuver Ever

This guy is unbelievable. He makes a child assault a disabled child on the t-ball team he has been entrusted with, the entire country hates him, and he is not smart enough to repent, offer up a mea culpa, and bow his head in shame. Rather he wants to make himself a target for a judge, a jury, the entire media and every parent in the country to do to him (metaphorically) what he had done to that autistic child.

Hope he is wearing a helmet, because the balls are gonna start flying.

T-ball coach rejects plea agreement in disabled beaning
UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) A T-ball coach charged with offering a player $25 to bean a disabled teammate refused a plea agreement and will instead stand trial in May.

On Thursday, Mark R. Downs Jr., 27, of Dunbar, refused to plead guilty to criminal solicitation to commit assault and other crimes.

Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon wanted to let a judge decide what sentence Downs would receive. But Downs' attorney contends his client did nothing wrong and said he would take his chances at trial in a case that has drawn the attention of TV news magazines and sports columnists across the country.

"This trial is going to be a circus," defense attorney Thomas Shaffer said. "I spent $850 on my cellphone bill" answering phone calls from the media and others.

Prosecutors contend Downs did not want 9-year-old Harry Bowers Jr. to play because the boy isn't as talented as other players, and is mildly mentally retarded and autistic.

Another player, Keith Reese, testified at a preliminary hearing that he threw balls that hit Bowers in the groin and the ear before a June 27 playoff game, because Downs offered him $25 to make sure Bowers wouldn't be able to play.

"He told me if I would hit Harry in the face, he would pay me $25," Reese testified in July. After the first throw, Downs "told me to go out there and hit him harder. So I went out and hit him in the ear," Reese testified.

Shaffer contends Downs made a joking remark about paying players to hit an umpire with a ball, and that was misinterpreted.

The team is part of the R.W. Clark Youth Baseball League. The game was in North Union Township, 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

League officials investigated and said they couldn't confirm that Downs did anything wrong, although Downs won't be allowed to coach again if he is convicted of criminal charges.

December 29, 2005

Liz Birt 1956-2005

Yesterday, Liz Birt, one of the original Mercury Moms, was killed in a car accident when the car she was traveling in was struck by a pickup truck.

Liz was a Chicago lawyer who became an autism activist after her son was diagnosed with regressive autism. She was one of the founding members of Safe Minds and founded Medical Interventions for Autism, a medical research charity and was on the board of A-CHAMP. She testified before Congress on the subject of mercury in vaccines and was one of the subjects of David Kirby’s book, Evidence of Harm. Indeed much of the information that Kirby shared in his book was uncovered by Liz.

She also was a proponent of estate planning for parents of ASD children and worked with parents so that their vulnerable children would be well cared for in the event of their untimely death.

She is someone toward whom I feel a great debt of gratitude for all that she has done. Parents like me who are new to the battle are only able to have a voice because we are standing on the shoulders of Giants. Liz Birt is one of those Giants.

Today Safe Minds offered this in memory of Liz:

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague Liz Birt. Liz was a co-founder of the "Coalition for SafeMinds" and was an active board member of the organization. She also founded Medical Interventions for Autism, was a founding board member of the National Autism Association, co-founder and board member of A-Champ and helped with the development of Extreme Sports Camp in Aspen, Colorado. Liz was a principal author of Mercury in Medicine, the staff report released by the House Government Reform Committee in 2003 that for the first time brought together the background and evolving science concerning the toxicity of mercury used as a preservative especially in childhood vaccines.

Liz's son Matthew was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder in 1996. She dedicated her life to finding out what caused his disorder and what could be done to help him and the thousands of children who suffer with autism spectrum disorders today. Her brilliant mind, strong spirit and passion for truth will be missed by everyone in the autism community. May her commitment and dedication to serving children with autism live on in those whose lives she touched.

Liz, a corporate and tax attorney by training lived in Wilmette, Illinois with her three children Sarah, Matthew and Andrew Lopez. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, where she is survived by her two brothers and her father. All of Liz's friends and colleagues at SafeMinds send our deepest condolences to her family, friends and loved ones. Liz was a force of nature and a shining example of love for her family and friends. We will all miss her.

Please share your thoughts and memories of Liz here.

This from David Kirby:

Never Forget

It’s been a full day since I received news of Liz Bert’s terrible passing, and it has been hard to put my thoughts into words.

I first met Liz on a frosty January morning, in Washington, in 2003. She was there to join the deafening protest to the so-called Lilly Rider – and it was my very first encounter with the mercury moms and dads of America.

It was very cold and Liz was very busy. I asked her what she thought needed to be done, in terms of proving the case against thimerosal. “We need to get our hands on the raw VSD data, right away,” she said. “I won’t stop fighting until we do!”

I had no idea at the time what “raw VSD data” meant, but it sure did sound important. And I realized at that moment that Liz was one of the toughest, smartest, most dogged mothers I had ever met.

What I didn’t realize, just yet, however, was how sweet, pure, true and generous Liz Birt was. That would come a bit later, when I traveled to spend time with her and her family outside Chicago, when she traveled to the east cost, just to be interviewed for the book, and when she would call me late at night, while I was writing, just to make sure I was ok, and to tell me that one day, the book would be finished, and it would have an impact.

There would be no book without Liz, perhaps no thimerosal controversy at all, or certainly not the level of debate that we see today.

When I last saw Liz, not long ago, she looked and seemed so happy. She told me she was happier than she had felt in a long time. She had the confident look of someone who anticipates nothing less than full victory, and unquestioned vindication.

And now she has been stolen away like a precious, bejeweled necklace, before the final fruits of her extraordinary labor were fully realized. Everyone who knew Liz is left in shock, mourning, and disbelief. It doesn’t make any sense that someone who was so very alive is no longer alive at all. It is crushingly cruel and unspeakably sad. Her children, especially, deserve our love and support.

I will always miss Liz. She was unlike anyone I have ever met – an inexhaustible fighter in an very taxing battle. If there is a direct line from Heaven to the US Congress, you can bet that Liz will be on the line, constantly.

I am trying to contact the publisher to see if there is time to pay tribute to her in the paperback edition, though I fear it may be too late. My heart goes out to Liz Birt’s family, and to everyone who knew and loved her.

Peace on Earth for 2006
David Kirby


Chicago Sun Times on Liz Birt: Wilmette lawyer, autism activist killed

Aspen Times on Liz Bert:

Accident victim was an advocate for autistic kids
By John Colson
December 30, 2005

Elizabeth Birt, who died in a two-car collision near Aspen on Wednesday, "was not just another tourist" but a nationally known advocate for autistic children, according to letters to The Aspen Times.

Birt, 49 - a Chicago-area attorney with three children, one of whom is autistic - had been cited in congressional reports on autism and in a book on the subject, her associates say.

A resident of Wilmette, Ill., she was in Aspen visiting friends this week. The 2006 Ford Taurus she was in - which her fiance, Steven Felt, 52, also of Wilmette, was driving - allegedly ran a red turn-light at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82, into the path of an oncoming truck.

The Colorado State Patrol does not believe either alcohol or speeding played a role in the accident.

The occupants of the truck, Mary and Blake Williams of Snowmass Village, both 31, suffered minor injuries in the collision and drove themselves to Aspen Valley Hospital later in the day.

Badly injured in the wreck was the driver's son, Michael Felt, 13, who was sitting in the back seat of the Taurus. All three were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, and Michael was transferred to Children's Hospital in Denver, where he was in critical condition Thursday evening.

Friends of Birt and the Felt family who contacted The Aspen Times about the accident said the impact of the truck crushed Michael's chest. He also suffered a broken thigh, friends said, and there are concerns about possible brain damage.

Several e-mails from associates of Birt referred to her work in the field of autism.

According to the letters, which have come from various parts of the country, Birt was a founder of two national organizations dealing with autism - Medical Interventions for Autism, a nonprofit investigating the links between inflammatory bowel disease, immune system disorders, viruses from vaccines and autism; and an advocacy group called SafeMinds, for which she was general counsel.

A book by David Kirby titled "Evidence of Harm," about the presence of mercury in vaccines and its theoretical link to autism, profiled her life and work, according to a letter from Kara Friedman of Chicago.

"Liz is a hero in the autism community worldwide," said Becky Simpson, secretary of the Maryland Autism Recovery Coalition. "She is greatly loved, and she will be greatly missed."

John Colson's e-mail address is

From Lenny Schafer:

Liz Birt, Down To The Wire

This is a snap shot of what this woman was doing for us and our children down to the wire to the end of her life. Here she is, a few weeks ago, pleading the cause of autism in her home state.

November 17, 2005

Illinois General Assembly
KidCare, Human Services Subcommittee 94th General Assembly

Testimony of Elizabeth Birt

Thank you for convening this hearing today regarding the issues facing Illinois families with autistic children. Because of the need for full disclosure and transparency regarding all issues before the Illinois General Assembly and the grave importance of this matter and its implications for public policy I would like to start off my stating that I have no financial conflicts of issue regarding autism, other than as the parent of a severely affected child, and that I receive no benefit directly or indirectly from pharmaceutical companies. I strongly urge that you require all individuals providing testimony to your subcommittee including those present today and those who have testified in the past to fully disclose all conflicts of interest.

I am the parent of an 11 year old child who was developmentally normal until he received two vaccinations, a thimerosal containing Hib and an MMR at approximately 15 months of age. Prior to his receipt of these vaccinations, my son could count to ten and said many words such as “mamma”, “daddy”, “ball”, “go”, Sasaa for his sister’s name; he pointed at objects of interests and played games like peek a boo and hide and seek. He loved to be held and had excellent eye contact. He had a history of ear infections but no serious medical problems. After the receipt of these immunizations, he ran a high fever. I gave him Tylenol as directed by his pediatrician. After the vaccination, he developed a rash on the trunk of his body. I
didn’t think that anything was seriously wrong and believed that all was normal with my adorable little boy. Within a few weeks of these immunizations my son developed chronic diarrhea; at first I believed it was the babysitter’s fault for giving him too much juice. As the weeks and months went by his gastrointestinal problems worsened. He also stopped acquiring language and insidiously he slipped away from me. We initially thought that he had hearing problems and had tubes inserted into his ears. We waited and watched and hoped. My son’s condition only worsened. He
started screaming uncontrollably and rubbing his stomach. It was like watching a fire die out ember by ember and there was no professional who could tell me how my child who had been so full of life and interactive was now in a world of his own.

Eventually my son received a diagnosis of PDD/NOS from a physician at Rush. The physician assured me that because my son still had skills left like stacking blocks that he would be “fine” and recommended speech therapy. This therapy was not covered by his father’s insurance company so we picked up the cost personally. My son then stopped sleeping through the night. He would awaken every night at around 3:00 A.M. screaming, smearing feces over himself, the carpet and walls. It was in one simple word “hell”. My husband and I took him to see a physician, Dr. Bennett Leventhal at
University of Chicago who diagnosed him as autistic. I will never forget that day. I had my son’s medical records with me from Dr. Michael Chez a neurologist, and asked him why his IGA was so low. IGA is the first line of defense in a person’s gastrointestinal and mucosal tract. I was told point blank that it wasn’t important. I asked him about my son’s behavioral issues such as rubbing his stomach, lying on the floor with his hands pressed against his stomach, and night time screaming. He didn’t say anything except it was perhaps a part of his autism-in other words his behavior was a psychotic result of his autism. I left the appointment feeling a sense of doom and that there was nothing that could be done for my son except to put him into an institution. It was one of the worst days of my life.

My son’s condition began to deteriorate further; he developed shingles, was chronically sick, had “shiners” under his eyes. Exasperated by the lack of medical care I set out on a journey to find out what exactly was wrong with my child. This journey led Matthew to the only treatment available for his chronic diarrhea. The care and compassion of a physician at the Royal Free Hospital in London, England by the name of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His group had identified in a small study published in The Lancet in 1998 a group of 12 children who had been referred to the Royal Free Hospital by their local pediatricians. Much has been made of this study and of Dr. Wakefield’s work. You should know that Leo Kanner, the individual who first identified autism relied only on 11 case reports. I have included Dr. Wakefield’s CV with your handouts; he has published 133 peer reviewed studies. This is not the work of a “mad scientist”; this is the work of a dedicated researcher who trusted parents when they told him the story of their child’s illness.

To my astonishment, the children in Dr. Wakefield’s original study had a history of normal development and then lost language, social skills and had chronic intestinal problems following the receipt of an MMR vaccination. For me, it was the only path I could follow to find relief for my child. I took him to London and there he was actually worked up clinically for his gastrointestinal disease. He was seen by seven doctors including Dr. John Walker-Smith who is regarded as the foremost pediatric gastroenterologist at that time in the world. Using a simple xray which could have been ordered at any hospital in this country, the doctors found that my son was completely constipated. The mass in his colon was the size of a small cantaloupe. He was scoped and found to have inflammatory bowel disease and put on appropriate medication for his physical condition. Immediately he started sleeping through the night. His non stop diarrhea abated and he was a much happier child.

Unfortunately, for Matthew his gastrointestinal disease has worsened and he is now on immunosuppressive treatment because he developed lesions in his esophagus. He has had several grand mal seizures. He has documented measles virus infection in his intestine and cerebral spinal fluid that matches the vaccine strain. In addition, his body is unable to detoxify. He has antibodies to myelin basic protein which acts as a conductor for nerves in his brain. His immune system is dysregulated; he has high levels of inflammatory cytokines. He is currently being evaluated for kidney stones. In short, his body is a train wreck.

Matthew, given all of these physical problems is a sweet little boy; he is affectionate and likes to be with other children. He is mischevious; he knows the rules in the house likes to push them. He is not mentally retarded; he understands everything that is said to him; he can not however, communicate verbally and relies on his caregivers, sign language and guttural sounds to get by. He has learned how to snow ski through a program offered by Challenge Aspen and has participated in a camp for autistic children founded by myself and another parent in Colorado called Extreme Sports Camp. At this camp Matthew has learned to rock climb, ice skate, and loves white water rafting. To see his smile at camp is worth a million dollars.

What children and parents of autistic children need is enormous. There is no respite care; no medical care; and the insurance companies pay nothing for services unless you are clever in coding the claims. Our children have behavioral issues that must be managed but they are also chronically ill. We don’t even know how many children and their families desperately need services not just for today but for the future. The cost of lifetime care for an autistic child in unknown but some estimates peg the national cost to be 7 TRILLION DOLLARS. There are no group homes to put these children in when their parents can not care for them at home. My fear as parents age they will take the life of their child and their own. This has already happened in England.

I am here today not just for my son but for every family in Illinois who has been affected by the devastating disorder. I worked for over two years investigating the relationship between autism and neurodevelopmental disorders as an attorney for the House Committee on Government Reform. My job was to review thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents from our federal health agencies and pharmaceutical companies. The sad story is laid out in a book called “Evidence of Harm” by David Kirby; I urge everyone to read this book.

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine issued a report stating that there was no credible evidence of a link between neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, and vaccines AND THAT NO FURTHER RESEARCH SHOULD BE CONDUCTED. This study has been highly criticized because it relied solely upon epidemiological studies that were questionable. The committee did not include the studies of researchers including Dr. Mady Hornig at Columbia University whose work on mice with autoimmune problems found that these mice exhibited obsessive compulsive disorders and had brain abnormalities similar to autistic individuals after the administration of thimerosal containing vaccines. It did not examine the presence of measles virus in the cerebral spinal fluid and not in healthy controls by Dr. Wakefield. It did not consider the work of Dr. Richard Deth of Northeastern University and Dr. Jill James of University of Arkansas demonstrating the ability of thimerosal at low levels to disrupt important metabolic pathways in cells nor the observation of these abnormalities in autistic children. In fact, none of these researchers were invited to present their findings.

One study in Denmark the IOM relied on reported an increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with autism following the removal of thimerosal containing vaccines from the vaccination schedule. What was not stated in the press and report is that the reason for the increase is that the Danish switched methods of counting autistic individuals to include both outpatient and inpatient cases. The famous CDC study authored by Thomas Verstraeten went through at least 5 “generations” of data manipulation. The author himself wrote in Pediatrics in April of 2004 that his study “does not state that we found evidence of an association, as a negative study would. It does state, on the contrary, that additional study is recommended, which the conclusion to which a neutral study must come.” The raw data from this study has apparently been destroyed and the CDC has denied access to the VSD database to independent researchers. I have personally as counsel to SAFEMINDS and for the Committee on Government Reform sought access with appropriate patient confidentiality safeguards to the database since 2001. The debate recently reached the floor of the United States Senate where Senators Lieberman and Harkin called for access to the data. In addition, this year an independent panel convened by the Institute of Medicine issued a report entitled “Vaccine Safety Research Data Access and Public Trust”. This report criticizes the CDC’s handling of this data which was bought by the taxpayers and questions why the data was moved to an independent non governmental entity in 2001 which would not only coincide with the removal of thimerosal containing vaccines from routine immunization schedules but remove it from FOIA. Many in Congress as well as respected scientists from all parts of this nation are urging that further research in this area continue; those scientists include two former heads of the National Institute of Enviornmental Health.

The “good” news is that despite this pronouncement by the IOM research is ongoing. Dr. Thomas Burbacker’s research demostrating that thimerosal in the brains of primates converted to inorganic mercury at a much greater rate than methylmercury (fish mercury) is in Phase II of funding despite the efforts of the federal government to stop this research. Phase I of this study concluded that “Knowledge of the toxicokinetics and developmental toxicity of thimerosal is needed to afford a meaningful assessment of the developmental effects of thimerosal-containing vaccines.” This study was published in Enviornmental Health Perspectives, an NIH peer reviewed publication in August of 2005. The IOM had full access to Dr. Burbaker’s research during the time they wrote their report. They never asked him to present his research.

Studies have been recently published demonstrating a breakdown of myelin in children with developmental disorders and just how toxic thimerosal is at minute quantities. I have included them in your handouts. As these studies are released the CDC is recommending that every pregnant woman and every child at 6 and 23 months receive a flu vaccine knowing that there is not enough manufacturing capacity to provide this vulnerable population with a thimerosal free vaccine. This action is at best negligent; to me it is immoral.

So how does my statement impact your committee? You have a lot of work to do to understand the scope of this problem and be assured that if vaccines are implicated that no one will help you pay for it. Today, there are ten bills before the Congress which would give blanket immunity to drug companies for vaccine injuries if the Secretary of HHS declares that the drug is necessary for a pandemic or epidemic. Further, if a citizen is injured they may not be able to access the Vaccine Compensation Act, as broken as it is, unless the Secretary of HHS allows them to do so. All meetings on vaccine matters will not be subject to FACA or FOIA; in other words all of this will be in complete secrecy.

One of the reasons that this legislation is being urged is the spin that liability issues have forced the manufacturers out of business. This is simply not the case and has been refuted in published reports. In fact, last year during the presidential election, Dr. Tony Faucci of the NIAID was quoted by the AP as stating “But that is only a very small part of the problem (liability for manufacturers)…More significant, are the low-profit margin vaccines provide, unpredictable demand and the complexity of the manufacturing process… The fragility of the vaccine enterprise is an issue that has been present for decades”. So now why is it all of a sudden a problem for the manufacturers? The answer is money and the more that the manufacturers can close off the liability exposure for products then the better. The only remaining hope for families of children who were lucky enough to know of the Vaccine Compensation Act’s three year statute of limitations from date of first symptoms limitation is to opt out. There are thousands of cases pending in Vaccine Court that will probably not be heard in my lifetime. The only chance they have is our trial system and a state court.

I believe in the concept of herd immunity; I support a vaccine program that is grounded in credible science; I believed in that system when I vaccinated my children; after 8 years I do not believe that this is the case. There are too many unanswered questions and so many injured children.

I urge this subcommittee to recommend that autism is a public health emergency in Illinois and to ask the Governor to declare it so. I urge Attorney General Lisa Madigan to utilize the talents of her staff to gain full access to the VSD. I urge this subcommittee to develop a comprehensive plan to identify affected children, provide meaningful support to their families; and to sit down with parents at the table and strategize on the best possible living arrangements for the children who are severely affected.

There is hope; I have included in your handouts an article recently published in the San Francisco Chronicle about a child who received appropriate medical and educational intervention for his “autism”; he has recovered and no longer has this diagnosis. Researchers at UC Davis Mind Institute, Mass General and other prestigious institutions are taking note and starting clinical studies to determine whether these treatments are effective. It may be that we have a constellation of “autisms” caused by not one gene but complex gene and environmental influences, including but not limited to vaccines.

We as a civilized society have an obligation to care for these children. If a portion of them were injured due to negligence on the part of federal health officials and pharmaceutical companies then so be it; what I have personally witnessed over the past eight years has been horrifying. I believe in our country and in the strength of its determination to overcome adversity. We must work together to solve this problem; I stand ready to help in any manner with the work of this committee.


Elizabeth Birt
Founder, Medical Interventions for Autism Founder, SAFEMINDS Board Member
A-CHAMP Board Member NAA


CNN story on Autism featuring Liz:
Uncovering autism's mysteries


Liz Birt sits with her autistic son Matthew, 9, on the stairs of their home in Illinois. Birt is very active with parents groups that believe vaccines cause autism.


From Diana Cregar:

The first time I met Liz Birt was at a private dinner party on the eve of the Pontiac BioMedical Conference on Autism in April of 2002, at the home of Dr. Vicky Debold, an RN and at the time was a Professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. Vicky believes her son Sam's injuries; autism, leaking gut, and other physical symptoms, were caused by his MMR vaccination. Dr. Andrew Wakefield who was performing intestinal scopes on Sam and Matthew, Liz's son also attended. It was a very lovely and comfortable evening that forever changed the course of my profession.

Liz Birt (and Dr. Yazbak) were the first contacts I made as I started investigating the link between thimerosal and autism way back in the summer of 2001. It was just weeks before 9-11 and a full year and a half before the infamous Eli Lilly rider that last week, in the new and improved version, returned in a Conference Report tucked into the Department of Defense Appropriation Bill that has now been signed into law.

We sat together through congressional hearings in the bowels of the Rayburn building as we all watched a 2.48 relative risk factor wash out to no risk. It has been a long and heartfelt battle. Janice and I worked with Liz Birt and Beth Clay to obtain the Vaccine Safe Datalink (VSD) data, but as documented in Evidence of Harm, the CDC restrictions to access and additional cost of travel and fees prohibited the small Institute that I work in from doing any type of analysis of the data. Thanks to Liz Birt and David Kirby's telling, the general public is now learning how the VSD/Thomas
story goes.

These contacts and failures lead us to obtaining the California Department of Developmental Services (CA DDS) Client Development Evaluation Reports (CDER) intake data as the foundation for our autism prevalence time series maps. It was a step Liz helped us to take.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those who love her.

Dear Liz, the world is indeed a better place for you being in it.

I nominate Cameron Diaz to play Liz in the movie.

Diana Cregar

This letter was sent to Congressman Burton from Liz Birt:

...As you can probably tell from my comments I am extremely distrustful of individuals at CDC and FDA. They have a history of outright lying. In addition, when possible they engage in the distortion of facts to suit their purposes. Please know that I am committed to finding out the truth about the relationship of vaccines to neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. I am willing to work on any project that would be useful to your committee at any time without compensation. I feel that this work must be done for the children and their families.

Thank you for your support on this matter.

Best Regards,
Liz Birt


Chicago Tribune:

Elizabeth Birt

Advocate for autistic kids

As the mother of a child with the disorder, the attorney was a `relentless warrior' fighting for the rights of such youths

By Carlos Sadovi
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 31, 2005

When Elizabeth Birt's 2-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with autism in 1996, she focused on the medical profession that she believed was not properly dealing with the disease.

She believed childhood vaccines were behind her son's disorder, which prompted her to lead a campaign as an advocate for autistic children. That campaign ultimately took her to Capitol Hill, said her ex-husband, Maurice Lopez.

From her home in Wilmette, Ms. Birt garnered enough interest in the cause that she was sought out by several congressmen to serve as an attorney for the House Committee on Government Reform.

While on the committee, she researched health-care issues affecting the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and co-wrote a congressional staff report, "Mercury in Medicines--Taking Unnecessary Risks," published in the Congressional Record in 2003.

Ms. Birt, 49, died Wednesday, Dec. 28, of injuries from a car accident outside Aspen, Colo., where she had property and was visiting friends for the holidays.

"She was a devoted mother who fought very hard for the rights of disabled children, and she never gave up on trying to make things better for autistic children and families of children with autism," Lopez said. "This rather small woman on her computer was able to move the world."

Ms. Birt, a native of Kansas City, Mo., founded the non-profit groups Medical Intervention for Autism and Coalition for Safe Minds. She along with several other mothers became known nationally as the "Mercury Moms" for their stance against thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines.

She was featured in David Kirby's book "Evidence of Harm--Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy" published in April.

On Friday, the National Autism Association prominently noted Ms. Birt's death on its Web site, and officials called her death a profound loss.

"Liz was not only a friend, but a hero as well," the association's posting said. "Her mission to find the truth for children diagnosed with autism has impacted all who share that goal. Blessed with a beautiful mind and dauntless courage, Liz has shown us what it is possible for us to achieve when our focus remains firmly upon the future of our children."

Along with her work as an advocate, Ms. Birt was a health-care attorney with Lebow & Malecki LLC in Chicago, where she worked for nearly three years, said Joan Lebow, her employer and friend for 12 years. Before working there, she served as an associate with the law firm Ross & Hardies. She began her legal career as an assistant general counsel to what is now Rush University Medical Center.

Ms. Birt worked as an insurance underwriter before moving to Chicago in 1990 to attend DePaul University School of Law, where she received a law degree and a doctorate in tax law. Ms. Birt stood apart from others because of her drive and sharp intellect, Lebow said.

"About 99.9 percent of the population would just be too lazy and self-involved to fight so hard and give up so much to the greater good," Lebow said. "It never daunted her. She knew she had to do something and she did it."

While she focused much of her time on her son Matthew, who will turn 12 on Jan. 14, she also had enough time for her other children, Andrew, 9, and Sarah, 13, Lopez said.

"She was a relentless warrior. She devoted her life to her children," Lopez said.

Ms. Birt also is survived by her father, James; and her brothers, Jim and George.

Visitation will be held Wednesday and a burial mass will be said Thursday in Kansas City, Mo.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 14 at St. Francis Xavier Church, 524 9th St., Wilmette.

Kansas City Star Obituary:

Elizabeth Birt

A memorial fund has been established to honor Liz's memory and leadership in the fight for children suffering with autism: the Elizabeth Birt Memorial Fund for Truth and Love, at the Thoughtful House Center for Children, 3001 Bee Caves Road, Austin, TX 78746.

Liz was born August 10, 1956, in Kansas City, MO, the daughter of James G. "Gib" and Giovanna M. "Jane" Birt. She was educated at The Loretto Academy and Southwest High School, and earned her BA in business from the University of Tulsa, a J.D. and LL.M. from the DePaul School of Law. She was staff counsel for Rush-St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago, an associate with the law firm of Ross & Hardies, and most recently a sole practitioner in Chicago, specializing in tax, corporate and non-profit law.

Liz was a philanthropist and advocate for children with autism and related disorders. Her son Matthew was diagnosed with autism in 1996. At the time, little attention was paid to these children by the medical community, and there was little awareness about this disorder, now recognized as a national epidemic. Liz devoted herself to finding the cause and cure for autism, a passion that became her life's work. This personal journey to understand her son's condition led to her national leadership in the burgeoning movement among parents of autistic children for a better understanding and treatment of this disease.

Liz founded Medical Interventions for Autism, which funded research grants that led to early breakthroughs in treating some of the more severe symptoms associated with autism. In addition, Liz was a founding director of Coalition for SafeMinds, a leading national think tank and research sponsor devoted to understanding the cause and finding a cure for autism. She was also a founding director of the National Autism Association, sponsor of a recent conference that brought together scientists, clinicians, and parents in an effort to find answers that would help the children. Liz was also a founding director of A-CHAMP, a grassroots political action committee formed to educate and advocate for more money and services for children with autism and against efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to evade liability for injuries caused by vaccines. Liz served as staff counsel for a subcommittee of the Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IL) and was one of the principal authors of the Committee's 2000 report Mercury in Medicine. That report summarized the science relating to the toxic effects of mercury, especially when used as a preservative in vaccines, to the developing brain and immune system, and exposed conflicts of interest and regulatory inaction and negligence on the part of the nation's agencies and institutions responsible for protecting children. She testified on several occasions before the Congress and state legislators about the dangers of mercury in vaccines about her own search for answers as to how government could have allowed, even mandated, injections of such a toxic substance into children, and a workable treatment for her son.

Liz's loss will be deeply felt by the autism community. A blog ( has been filling with pages of tributes to Liz and stories from parents recounting her tireless helpfulness to so many in anguish over a new diagnosis, or in search of treatments that would really work, or doctors that could provide help.

The memorial fund established at Thoughtful House has two objectives. First, it will support research into the causes of and treatment for autism and related disorders. Liz had been convinced from the beginning of her own investigations that science would eventually reveal the truth as to what caused her son's autism and treatments that would help the hundreds of thousands of other children, many of whom are locked in a sort of cognitive and communicative prison, as well as suffering from a range of gastrointestinal and metabolic symptoms. The fund will also help families in need pay for desperately needed clinical care.

Liz is survived by her three children, Andrew, Matthew, and Sarah; her father, James G. Birt; her two brothers, James E. Birt and George G. Birt; her aunts, Maria Bartocci and Barbara Birt; her uncle, Carlo Bartocci; her cousins, Cristina Bartocci, Margherita Timelin, Jeanne Snowden, and Jaci Birt; her nieces, Betsey Birt, Meredith Birt, and Alexa Birt; and her nephew, Tim Birt. (Arr; D.W. Newcomer's Stine & McClure Chapel, 816-931-7777).

Published in the Kansas City Star on 1/1/2006.

Update: Chicago Parent Magazine

Good-bye to Liz Birt
Editorials - February 2006
Liz DeCarlo/Chicago Parent

It is with great sadness we tell you that Evanston mom Elizabeth Birt died in a car accident late last year while vacationing in Colorado.

Birt, 49, the mother of Andrew, Matthew and Sarah was also a tireless advocate for autistic children, who elevated the level of medical debate about the disease across the country.

We featured Birt in the article "Mercury in Kids’ Vaccines," which ran in our August 2005 edition.

In 1996, Birt’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with autism and whatever her personal and family struggles were, Birt also kicked into action.

In the past 10 years, Birt founded the Coalition for SafeMinds (Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders), Medical Interventions for Autism and the National Autism Association. She also started the Xtreme Sports Camp, to give autistic children a chance to participate in sports rarely open to them by other means.

Birt was an attorney with a private practice in Wilmette. But it was her fight for Matthew and autistic children which frequently put her center stage in Washington, D.C. She fought to get mercury out of vaccines, something she believed was a primary cause of her son’s autism. Her efforts were chronicled in David Kirby’s book Evidence of Harm, released in April 2005.

It is a daunting time. The safety, health and education of our children are no longer local issues, they are global concerns. The dangers that face us, and our kids, can seem overwhelming. So, it is easier than ever to give up on change without even starting.

But Birt shows us that one person can make a difference just by asking questions.

The safety of vaccines is a long-standing controversy—one of the debates centers around whether or not the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, used in many vaccines, causes autism. Many in the medical community say no scientific link has yet been proven. Advocates say that does not negate the link. Rather, it points to the need for more research.

When Birt first heard about the connection between autism and thimerosal, she knew nothing about it. She read everything she could find, requested government documents, studies and became convinced thimerosal was the cause of Matthew’s autism.

Armed with the information, Birt was not afraid to march into the middle of a political maelstrom and challenge the federal government, the public health systems, the medical communities and the pharmaceutical companies. She co-wrote a congressional staff report, "Mercury in Medicines—Taking Unnecessary Risks," published in the Congressional Record in 2003.

Birt fought hard. Not only did her hard work mirror that of an epic David vs. Goliath battle in D.C., but she also managed through her organizations to bring joy, hope and inpsiration to many families. She was generous with her time and compassion, often providing a shoulder to cry on for parents of newly diagnosed autistic children.

When Birt was interviewed by Chicago Parent, she proved a patient teacher, spending weeks on the phone and in person to explain the issues and history regarding mercury and its possible connection to autism and other childhood neurological disorders. She always found time to answer just one more question and the patience to muddle through a difficult topic with our reporter, our editors and fact checkers—many of whom were new to the topic.

Feisty and determined in her fight for autistic children, Birt was a divorced mother doing her best to raise three children—one of whom required much more effort than the average child. Yet, she still found the time and energy to become a leader in a fight she would rather not have been fighting.

She was a mom who, no matter how tired and discouraged she might be, still put one foot in front of the other each day to advocate for her son, Mathew. And as a result, so many others benefited. She is a role model for all of us and will be missed.

December 26, 2005

Protection for Makers Of Vaccine May Backfire

"Len Lavenda, a spokesman for vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur of Swiftwater, Pa., said the liability exemption is needed because manufacturers can't secure liability insurance for bird-flu vaccines. Insurers regard such products as uncharted territory, he said."

Insurers are right. It is uncharted territory. If insurance companies, who make their living playing the actuarial tables and obsessively measuring the risks down to the person and the penny won't touch the avian flu vaccine, then why should I allow it to be put into my family?

If an insurance company won't insure a home for you on the side of a hill or in a flood plain, then you should not be building there. If an insurance company won't insure a vaccine, should you be taking it?

"Without insurance, "We'd be asked to put the company's entire economic future on the line to produce the vaccine, and we're not willing to do that," Lavenda said."

"Without recourse for compensation, "We'd be asked to put the family's entire economic future on the line to recieve the vaccine, and we're not willing to do that," Taylor said."

Protection for makers of vaccine may backfire
Monday, December 26, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A law shielding bird-flu vaccine manufacturers from consumer lawsuits could cause many Americans to refuse vaccination for fear they would have no recourse if it harmed them, some health experts say.

The legislation, which cleared Congress last week, could significantly undermine efforts to ensure widespread protection against a potential avian-flu pandemic, they warn.

Erin McKeon, associate director of governmental affairs for the American Nurses Association, said liability exemptions were partly to blame when other vaccination programs stumbled.

"Look at how the smallpox vaccination program went in 2003, when the president tried to vaccinate half a million health care workers, but really ended up with less than 40,000 because there was no compensation program," McKeon said.

The liability exemption was attached to the defense spending bill. The legislation contains about $3.8 billion to fund strategies for preparing the nation to fight a bird flu pandemic.

Supporters of the liability exemption insist it is necessary to encourage more companies to make vaccine. Vaccine manufacturing is financially risky, drug makers say, partly because the demand for vaccination is transitory. Also, vaccines generally are administered to healthy people who, if they get sick, might blame the vaccine and sue.

Len Lavenda, a spokesman for vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur of Swiftwater, Pa., said the liability exemption is needed because manufacturers can't secure liability insurance for bird-flu vaccines. Insurers regard such products as uncharted territory, he said.

Without insurance, "We'd be asked to put the company's entire economic future on the line to produce the vaccine, and we're not willing to do that," Lavenda said.

But the Association of Trial Lawyers of America notes that Sanofi Pasteur has signed $100 million in federal contracts to develop bird-flu vaccine even though the liability shield does not yet exist. The association said federal health agencies have concluded liability concerns have little or no effect on vaccine production.

Blocking consumers' rights to take vaccine makers to court would remove an incentive for companies to make safe drugs, the lawyers group said.

Bruce Taylor Seeman may be reached at

December 25, 2005

Bud Loves His Mommy

Lucky Mommy.

A New Look For The New Year

So I thought I would take the holiday break and play with the blog a bit. When I slapped this thing up I didn't really think it would be a permanent thing and spent no time on the design. Cut to a year an a half later. I will probably fiddle with it and try on a few more blogspot looks, or I might just throw out blogger all together. Don't know what I am going to to really.

Drunk on Christmas Chocolate

December 24, 2005

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

I first posted this story more than a year ago, and it continues to be an important one to me. It reminds me of the beautiful power of our little ones and impact of their love. I offer it to you again.

God's blessing on you and your family.

Merry Christmas

Autistic child's gift teaches lesson about God's love; leads to church start
By George Henson

THORNDALE—Some people think the days of miracles are past, but Pastor Larry Griffith says he knows better. He’s seen God use a child’s toy to start a church.

Griffith took a step of faith when he prepared to travel to Brazil with Evangelist Sammy Tippit earlier this summer, leaving behind his pregnant wife.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was get on that plane instead of staying with her,” Griffith said.

But he still felt God’s leading to go. He received confirmation as he said his good-byes to his two sons.

His oldest son, Dallas, is 9 years old. He also is autistic. His father says Dallas lives primarily in his own world, and the key components of that world are his little toy Hot Wheels cars.

“He is very possessive of his toy cars, and had his favorite one that he always kept with him—his security blanket—in his hand,” Griffith recalled.

While some autistic children are not very vocal, Dallas is. Dallas asked his father to bring him back a car from his trip.

“Part of the price you pay for being a preacher’s kid is that everything is a life lesson,” Griffith said. “So I preceded to tell him that I would try, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to or not. And he should remember that in Brazil, the children were very poor, and many of them had never had even one car or any other toy.”

Dallas stood before his father for a few seconds and then held out the hand that held his most precious possession.

“He told me to give it to a boy in Brazil. My wife and I were dumbfounded and just stood there in tears.” Autistic children tend to be self-centered and reluctant to share, Griffith explained.

“We knew at that moment that God was up to something very special,” he said.

The flight from Texas to Sao Paulo, Brazil, was a long one, and all the way there, Griffith’s thoughts were drawn back to his son’s gift of his most prized possession.

“I began to see that as a picture of what God has done for us—the way he gave his son that we might have eternal life,” he said.

In Brazil, he preached at First Baptist Church in Jardra, and he recounted the story of his son’s gift. In the midst of telling that story and relating to the congregation how it was a picture of God’s love, he asked if a 9-year-old boy were present. A boy named Jefferson came to front. Griffith presented Jefferson with the first toy he ever possessed on behalf of his son, Dallas, who was giving the first gift he ever gave.

“The congregation just wept,” Griffith said.

After the service, four men said they had been impressed that they needed to share the story of God’s gift of love with people in a nearby neighborhood that had no church. One of the men owned a garage where he worked on cars and said it could serve as a church for the community.

The next day, Griffith and the four men went door-to-door through an impoverished neighborhood. The residents’ poverty had hardened their hearts toward God, he said.

“They said, ‘God doesn’t love me.’ But as we shared the story of Dallas’ gift and God’s gift of his Son, we would see hearts melt, and 27 people gave their hearts to Christ that first day,” Griffith recalled.

The men decided that with so many making professions of faith in Christ, the meetings in the garage could not wait until the next Sunday but needed to start that night. Each of the 27 who had made commitments to Christ was present.

Griffith and the men continued witnessing to the people and telling the story of a boy’s gift and how it mirrored God’s gift. By the end of the week, 131 people had made professions of faith in Christ.

When Sunday came, the garage overflowed with people.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen God do—start a church with an 88-cent car,” Griffith said.

The church in the garage still doesn’t have a name. Charter members have to go through paperwork and receive city approval before they have an official name. But unofficially, Griffith has his own name for the congregation.

“I call it First Baptist Church of Dallas.”

Evangelicals Converted on the Environment


Evangelicals converted on the environment
By Clive Cookson
Published: December 23 2005

"The Earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof" - Psalm 24

Early next year environmental scientists, who have been campaigning fruitlessly to persuade the administration of US President George W. Bush to take global warming more seriously, hope to gain a very influential source of support.

The National Association of Evangelicals, the largest organisation of "born-again" Christians in the US, is circulating among its leadership a draft policy statement that would demand strong action against the causes of climate change.

NAE members - 45,000 churches with a combined congregation of 30m - are sometimes seen as rightwingers who despise environmental issues in general and climate change in particular. But it would in fact be a logical step in the "greening" of churches around the world.

In 1967 the historian Lynn White wrote a critique of Christianity, The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, which blamed environmental problems on the Christian notion that God gave the earth to people for their use and directed us to exercise dominion over it and all its life forms. Since then, environmentalist church groups have sprung up to promote the opposite view: that God made humanity responsible for looking after the earth.

Until recently, most have been on the liberal wing of Christianity but they are being joined by fundamentalists who can find many biblical references to support "creation care", the favoured term for environmental stewardship.

Sir John Houghton, former head of the UK Meteorological Office and a scientific leader of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been influential in campaigning for a change of heart among US evangelicals on global warming. As a devout Christian, he persuaded some evangelical leaders to come to England in 2002 for a meeting in Oxford at which they were convinced by the scientific case for tackling climate change - and he has worked closely with them ever since.

Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-ordinator of the Harvard Forum on Religion and Ecology, calls the Oxford conference "a hugely important conversion moment for the evangelicals. After that they were going to come on board."

Then, in 2004, evangelical leaders including senior representatives from the NAE and the equally influential Southern Baptist Convention gathered in Sandy Cove, Maryland, for a three-day session of prayer and discussion. Sir John was present there too. From this meeting emerged the "Sandy Cove Covenant", a document spelling out the principles of creation care. "We invite our brothers and sisters in Christ to engage with us the most pressing environmental questions of our day, such as health threats to families and the unborn, the negative effects of environmental degradation on the poor, God's endangered creatures, and the important current debate about human-induced climate change," it says. "We covenant together to engage the evangelical community in a discussion about the question of climate change with the goal of reaching a consensus statement on the subject in twelve months."

With the consensus statement now in the final - and most delicate - stages of formulation, the NAE is refusing to discuss its contents. "I am sure it will be a really positive and influential statement - and will counter the misinformation campaign propagated by the oil industry since 1992," says Sir John.

Evangelicals not bothered about the environment are an "extreme minority who have taken the view that the future of the earth doesn't matter because the whole thing will soon be wound up", he adds. These people believe that the End of Days and the Rapture are at hand. In the Rapture, due within 40 years, "the saved ascend to eternal grace and the rest of us writhe in damnation", as Lord May put it in an address to the Royal Society in London last month. "If you believe this you clearly do not worry about 2050."

The Age of Autism: Gold Salts Pass A Test

The Age of Autism: Gold salts pass a test
By Dan Olmsted
Dec 23, 2005, 19:16 GMT

In a Striking Follow-up to Our Reporting on the First Child Diagnosed with Autism -- and His Improvement After Treatment with Gold Salts -- a Chemistry Professor Says Lab Tests Show the Compound Can 'reverse the Binding' of Mercury to Molecules.

'This does lend support to the possible removal of mercury from biological proteins in individuals treated with gold salts,' Boyd Haley, professor and former chemistry department chair at the University of Kentucky, said Thursday.

The potential significance: Donald T. -- Case 1 among children diagnosed with autism in the 1930s -- showed marked improvement in his autistic symptoms after being treated with gold salts for an attack of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. That`s according to his brother, who we interviewed earlier this year in the small Mississippi town where he and Donald, now 72, still live.

One theory of autism -- strongly dismissed by federal health authorities and mainstream medical groups -- is that the disorder is primarily caused by a mercury preservative called thimerosal that was used in vaccines beginning in the 1930s. Some parents and researchers who believe autism is, in essence, mercury poisoning are using treatments designed to remove mercury from the body or offset its neurological effects.

Haley is among a minority of scientists who holds this view, and after reading about Donald`s improvement he set out to test whether gold salts have any effect on mercury. 'You follow your nose in research, and when I saw that I thought, yes, this is a possibility,' said Haley.

Haley`s experiment was quite simple: He began with a colored thiol-containing compound. Thiols are the class of molecules that contain a sulfhydryl group (a sulfur and hydrogen atom bound together) and, because of the affinity of mercury for sulfur, these molecules bind tightly to mercury. Thiols are found in most enzymes, and when mercury binds to them, these enzymes lose their biological activity, which is needed to maintain healthy cells, he said.

Haley performed two tests involving inorganic mercury -- the type of mercury thimerosal breaks down to in the brain, he said.

Haley`s compound was designed to turn colorless when mercury binds to it. In the first test, he added the mercury, and the 'optical density' measurement went from 0.23 units down to 0.11 units immediately, and down to 0.03 units in half an hour -- a clear sign that the mercury had bound to the thiol.

In the second test he premixed the mercury with gold salts for two minutes, then added it to the same solution. This time the optical density dropped to 0.11 but then slowly increased back up to 0.23 within about 30 minutes -- 'totally the opposite of the situation with mercury alone,' Haley said. 'The only way this could happen would be for the gold salts to remove mercury from the thiol-containing compound.'

The advocacy group SafeMinds -- which opposes the use of mercury in medicines and provided Haley with the $142 prescription of gold salts to test -- called the results potentially significant but cautioned against premature use of the compound to treat autistic people.

'Clinicians have shown that some autistic children show strong recovery from their symptoms after biomedical treatment,' said SafeMinds` Mark Blaxill. 'So any time we discover a treatment that works in a child, we need to take it seriously.

'According to his brother`s unprompted report, Donald T. recovered from autism after treatment with gold salts. We should be all over that, especially after Boyd`s work. But we need to proceed with care to make sure that this is a safe treatment.'

Haley made the same point. 'Please note that I am not recommending using gold salts to treat autistics, but it would certainly be worth a project if carefully monitored by a physician in a good clinic.'

In August Donald`s brother described to us his 'miraculous response' to gold-salts treatment for a life-threatening attack of juvenile arthritis. Donald was given injections of the salts over a two- to three-month period at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis at age 12 in 1947.

The arthritis cleared up, and so did the 'extreme nervousness' and excitability that had afflicted him, his brother said. Donald also became 'more social.' He went on to college, where he was invited to join a fraternity; worked as a bank teller; and now, in retirement, pursues his love of golf and travels the world. Most of those early patients -- and thousands since -- were institutionalized when they got older or lived in extremely sheltered circumstances, according to follow-up reports. (Donald did not respond to our request for an interview, and we are not identifying him at this time beyond information in the original case study and follow-up.)

Before Haley tested the gold salts, he told us why he thought it was worth investigating.

'Nothing has a higher affinity for mercury than elemental gold. They form bonds that are very tight,' Haley said. Devices designed to detect and filter out mercury routinely use gold, he noted -- and they obviously would employ a less expensive element if gold weren`t so effective. Mercury was also used to extract gold from ore in mining operations.

In the body, Haley said, gold likely is 'attracted to the same places as mercury. They would probably make it to the same spot in the body. It (gold) would probably cross the blood-brain barrier like mercury. There are reasons to think that if you put it in, it would chase mercury down because they`re very similar in their chemistry.

'So you might be able to displace it with the gold. The chemistry gets complicated here, but gold does not do as much oxidative stress as does mercury. The gold isn`t nearly as toxic as the mercury. ... It could take it off the enzyme it`s inhibiting and reactivate that enzyme.'

Haley said he was intrigued that the treatment may have benefited Donald when he was 12 -- old for such a positive response, according to proponents of biomedical therapies. The most controversial such treatment is chelation, which uses drugs in an attempt to pull toxic metals -- mercury in particular -- from the body.

'It doesn`t seem to work with the older kids,' Haley said. 'These older kids are just lost.' But, Haley emphasized: 'Don`t jump on this. Be careful. You can hurt kids.'

That concern was underscored when a 5-year-old autistic child died this year while undergoing chelation in Pennsylvania. Federal officials say it is not a responsible practice, although one advocacy group says more than 10,000 families have tried it, with significant benefit.

December 23, 2005

Veterans Groups Protest Vaccine Liability Protection

The proposal effectively would prevent manufacturers from being sued for the vaccines' effects.
December 22, 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C.: VACCINE PROPOSAL -- Three groups representing veterans and their families are protesting a plan that protects vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits brought by civilians and members of the armed forces.

In an open letter to President Bush and Congress, the groups said, "subjecting service members to dangerous vaccines while giving protection to vaccine manufacturers is not only a threat to the health of our troops, it is a threat to the ability of our armed services to recruit and keep soldiers."

The groups noted that the legislation strips veterans and civilians of their ability to sue for damages if the vaccines, now experimental, are used and cause someone harm. Under the terms of the bill, the government would compensate victims but the specifics of how that would work and the amount of money was not determined.

The proposal, tucked into a defense spending bill, passed the House early Monday and is expected to come to the Senate for a vote today or later this week.

The veterans groups' letter, and an advertisement they placed in the Congress Daily newspaper on Friday, cites statistics from a story in the Daily Press detailing how the Department of Defense withheld data on more than 20,000 hospitalizations of troops who received the controversial anthrax vaccine from 1998-2000.

The executive director of one of the veterans groups, Steve Robinson of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said the newspaper's discovery of the unreported hospitalizations was a significant event in veterans' efforts to discover the truth about the harmfulness of the vaccine.

Language preventing civilians and others from suing vaccine makers responsible for drugs to fight avian flu or biological weapons was slipped into the defense bill sometime between 11 p.m. Sunday and 1 a.m. Monday by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Under the provision, any lawsuit against these companies would have to include proof of "willful misconduct" when it was filed, a standard many legal experts said would be nearly impossible to meet. That means drug makers could be guilty of "reckless" or "negligent" actions and be exempt from punishment by a lawsuit.

The bill would also prevent those who were injured from getting information about the vaccine and its manufacture. Opponents say that would allow manufacturers and the government to hide information on illnesses and other problems caused by a bad vaccine.

The Senate was expected to vote on the measure late Wednesday or today. Democrats and some Republicans have vowed to oppose the measure.

The legislation funds military expenses past Dec. 31, but also creates the lawsuit ban and opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.

Frist says the legislation is necessary so that major vaccine manufacturers will participate in the development of new drugs and have confidence that there are sufficient financial rewards.

Robinson and others point out that members of the armed forces are typically the first to receive these drugs in large numbers and the most likely to be exposed to any dangers.

"The drug industry is holding the federal government hostage" by insisting on being immune from lawsuits that might enable veterans and others to get compensation for any harm these drugs cause, he says.

The Age of Autism: Missing in Mississippi - Part 2 or 3

The Age of Autism: Missing in Mississippi
UPI Senior Editor

In this -- the second of three parts recounting our reporting on autism since the start of the year -- we revisit the first child ever diagnosed with the disorder.

On a sweltering late August morning we climbed the stairs to a second-floor law office in a small town in Mississippi. We introduced ourselves to the brother of Donald T., the first person ever diagnosed with autism.

Donald was born in 1933; he came to the attention of the medical world in 1938, when his parents took him to see the renowned child psychiatrist Leo Kanner at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Over the next four years Kanner saw 10 more children exhibiting the same unique behavior syndrome, and in 1943 he introduced the disorder in an article titled, "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact."

While Kanner did not identify Donald by his full name, we were able to determine his identity and learned he was still alive at age 71. That's what brought us to his brother's office -- looking for clues to the roots and rise of a devastating disorder that seemed rare when Donald was born, but now affects 1 in every 166 U.S. children.

Donald, his brother told us, was out of town. But speaking in a courtly, deliberate manner and without any prompting on our part, he told a remarkable story: At age 12 Donald had been living with a nearby farm couple. "One February day, I think it was, they came to (town) with Don. He had a bad fever and was obviously sick." His joints were swollen and stiff, his brother said.

"My father and mother took him to all various places for examination -- they went to Mayo Clinic, brought him back. He lost his appetite and was terribly emaciated. But anyway, my father was talking to a doctor (in a nearby town) he happened to run into and said, 'It looks like Don is getting ready to die.'"

The doctor said, "What you're describing sounds like a rare case of juvenile arthritis." Diagnosis in hand, his parents took Donald to the eminent Campbell Clinic in Memphis, where he was treated with the then-standard remedy, gold salts. "He just had a miraculous response to the medicine," Donald's brother said. "The pain in his joints went away."

And here's the kicker: "When he was finally released the nervous condition he was formerly afflicted with was gone. The proclivity toward excitability and extreme nervousness had all but cleared up." He also became "more social."

In other words, Donald got a lot better. He went on to college, joined a fraternity, worked at a bank, owns a house, drives a car, belongs to the Kiwanis and the Presbyterian Church and plays a good game of golf despite one fused knuckle left over from the arthritis attack.

And now, in retirement, he travels the world. That explained why he wasn't in town -- he was off having a good time. Last stop: Italy. Favorite city: Istanbul. Because Donald did not respond to a request for an interview made through his brother, we are not identifying him at this time.

Most of the rest of the first 11 children identified by Leo Kanner depended for the rest of their lives on the kindnesses of strangers: They lived in back wards or, if they were lucky, group homes or other sheltered arrangements.

Donald's brother told us Johns Hopkins researchers have been in touch every decade to check on Donald, but we're not aware of any published accounts of Donald's improvement following the gold-salts treatment -- something his brother volunteered to us in a half hour of conversation.

Regardless, the fate of the first child ever diagnosed with the disorder seems more relevant today than ever before. One reason: Some parents, under the guidance of several hundred doctors who have broken away from the medical mainstream, are trying a variety of medical interventions to treat their autistic children.

These range from restrictive diets to cod-liver oil to methyl B-12 shots to the most controversial technique, called chelation (key-LAY-shun). This involves giving a child a drug -- orally, via creams or in some cases, intravenously -- that is designed to pull heavy metals, in particular mercury, from the body. The process carries risks: Earlier this year a 5-year-old autistic child died while undergoing intravenous chelation in Pennsylvania.

The theory behind it -- rejected by federal health authorities and most scientists -- is that in most cases autism is actually a form of mercury poisoning. The mercury in question came from some childhood immunizations, which beginning around 1930 contained an ethyl-mercury preservative called thimerosal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts say that concern is unfounded, but they recommended in 1999 that it be phased out of childhood vaccines in the United States as a precaution.

The questions raised by Donald's improvement are both simple and potentially significant: Did the gold-salts treatment alleviate his autistic symptoms, and if so, why?

Did the juvenile arthritis -- an autoimmune condition -- and the autism improve markedly at the same time because both were responses to a toxic exposure? Did the gold salts help pull mercury from Donald's body, and/or reduce an inflammatory immune response in his brain? Or is it all coincidence, or a memory blurred by the passage of 59 years?

Such questions, or course, are speculative, and some readers have criticized us for even asking them, given the assurances of the CDC and medical groups and the importance of immunizations in preventing infectious disease.

Wrote one reader over the weekend: "I can't morally just stand by and watch you exacerbate a situation where children are dying because fearful mothers didn't vaccinate. ... It is doubly sad when you consider that instead of your causing the deaths of children, you could have used your bully pulpit to do something good for autistic children."

But something good did seem to happen to one autistic child who was about to die: Donald T. All we're interested in is, why?

In the new year we'll look more closely at whether chelation and other treatments appear effective. First, though, we'll wrap up this review by recounting our efforts to find autism in U.S. children who have never been vaccinated.