Health

A 4-Year-Old Boy Died From Salt Poisoning — But What Is It?

How much salt is too much for children?

In 2007, Texas mother Hannah Overton was convicted of murdering 4-year-old Andrew Burd, a boy she and her family were fostering and had planned to adopt. She served seven years in prison for his death but continued to maintain her innocence. When new evidence came to light in 2014, Overton was granted a new trial. She was exonerated and has been reunited with her husband and her five other children.

The reason behind Overton’s harrowing ordeal? It was found that Andrew had died due to a little known-condition called salt poisoning.

As Texas Monthly reports, in fall of 2006, Overton had unintentionally fed the little boy a lethal amount of the common seasoning — possibly after he had consumed salt on his own earlier in the day. After eating his lunch, Andrew began to vomit. His breathing then became strained and congested, at which point Overton drove him to an urgent care facility.

salt photo
Flickr | Corentin Dérory

 

At the hospital, Andrew was diagnosed with hypernatremia, also known as salt poisoning. The condition caused bruising all over his body, so cops thought the boy was suffering from abuse.

Overton revealed during questioning that she had served Andrew a bowl of bean soup with Creole seasoning. The boy asked for and received a second bowl, and when he asked for a third helping, Overton thought so much food would make him sick. That’s when she sprinkled some of the seasoning into Andrew’s sippy cup, in attempt to give him a taste of the flavor without allowing him to over-stuff himself.

Overton had no idea that what she had done to pacify the little boy would be a fatal mistake.

She was charged with Andrew’s murder, and the prosecution made the case that Overton was an angry and overwhelmed mother that knowingly and intentionally poisoned her own son as punishment for bad behavior earlier in the day. A jury convicted her of capital murder in 2007. Good Housekeeping reports that in a poll after the trial, jurors revealed that while they didn’t think Overton meant to murder Andrew, they felt that she didn’t do enough to help him fast enough.

New evidence presented at her trial proved that much of the allegations made against Overton were false, including the fact that she did not act quickly enough. An expert testified that it takes an hour for a child to begin exhibiting symptoms. After seven years in jail, Texas Monthly reports, Overton was released and in April 2015, capital murder charges against her were dropped.

Now that her conviction has been overturned, Overton is living peacefully at home with her husband and children. But she still deals with the pain of Andrew’s tragic death and her subsequent ordeal.

“Every day, I hear about things that I missed out on with my family, and that hurts. But I don’t deal with anger that often,” she told Good Housekeeping. “I gave that to God a long time ago. I realized I could not hold on to that anger. It would eat up at me.”

Other parents have been charged with similar crimes, leaving many wondering if they need to worry about this accidental and potentially deadly condition.
Although rare, children are most at-risk for salt poisoning. The condition can be very dangerous, leading to brain cell damage, seizures and coma. And in rare instances, as was the case with Andrew, it can be fatal. However, experts point out that most cases of salt poisoning do not end in death.
“Luckily most of the time if they do get exposure, we send them to the hospital, they get electrolytes, and only experience nausea and vomiting,” Justin Lewis, the Clinical Managing Director of Sacramento division of the California Poison Control System, told WFAA.
So how much salt is too much? The Poison Control System says that consumption of a full teaspoon of salt at once is enough to warrant medical intervention for both children and adolescents. The organization notes that as a rule, it is difficult to ingest enough salt to cause poisoning because it doesn’t taste good and will cause extreme thirst.
Children and those with developmental delays may not realize how much they are consuming, though. Experts warn to never eat or drink too much of something on a dare, and that salt should never be used to induce vomiting.
If you believe your child or anyone else has ingested too much sodium and is exhibiting symptoms such as intense thirst, nausea, vomiting and weakness, it’s important to take action right away. Administer water if the person is conscious. If they are unconscious, have stopped breathing or are having seizures, it’s imperative to call 911 as soon as possible. You can also contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for expert advice.