Lujene Clark of Carthage says she is persuaded her
son’s regression into a form of autism was caused by
mercury used as a preservative in vaccines received by
her 9-year-old son, Devon. She and her husband are
lobbying to get mercury banned from vaccines.
A family's crusade
Carthage couple say mercury agent in vaccines caused
By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
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CARTHAGE, Mo. - It started with him
fidgeting, then continually lining up toys and other
At times, he had emotional outbursts far beyond what
would be normal for the circumstances. He developed
allergies, eczema and asthma.
Then, after a flu shot late in 2002, all of those
"It all hit warp speed, just
like in 'Star Wars,'" said Lujene Clark. "Everything
just became so dramatic, including his behavior."
Alan Clark, a 30-year emergency
room physician, and Lujene Clark, a former nurse,
didn't recognize the symptoms in their 8-year-old son,
They were shocked when the formerly active,
bright-eyed child was diagnosed with a form of autism,
and when they learned what they believe is the cause.
Now the Carthage couple are on what can only be
described as a crusade - to Washington, D.C., and to
Jefferson City, Des Moines, Sacramento and other state
capitals - to ensure that vaccines are administered
without thimerosal, a preservative that contains
mercury. Until a government recommendation in 1999,
most childhood vaccinations contained thimerosal.
Though voluntarily taken out of childhood
immunizations, the preservative remains in much of the
flu vaccine currently being administered to children
as well as adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which
sets vaccine requirements for the United States,
rejects any link between the preservative and autism
or other disorders such as attention deficit disorder,
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Asperger
Devon was diagnosed with AD/HD in 2001, when he was in
the first grade. A year later, after a flu shot, his
"He would ask the meaning of things he had known for
ages," Lujene Clark said. "At first, I thought he was
playing with us. Then, he couldn't seem to understand
simple instructions, like to sit down and put on a
"He started having sensory issues. If we would go into
a Wal-Mart or a large store with a lot of lights and
sounds, he would just go into emotional meltdown. And
he went from eating anything set in from of him to
only eating a few things, because certain tastes and
textures bothered him. We were watching him
deteriorate, and we didn't know why."
Devon also suddenly developed allergies and asthma,
his mother said.
"Thimerosal attacks the immune system," she said. "We
took him to an allergist. Out of 53 antigens, he
reacted to 51."
Her voice chokes and tears well as Clark describes how
her only child had changed.
"He'd always had the brightest, sparkliest eyes," she
said. "But then after he got his flu shot, they were
flat and lifeless - what I call the 'Stepford look.'
He wouldn't look you in the face or make eye contact.
It was like there was nobody home."
'You need to show me'
Devon had attended kindergarten and first grade at
Mark Twain Elementary School. When his condition
deteriorated, the Clarks moved him to St. Ann's
Catholic School, in hopes the smaller class sizes
would help. They did for a while, Alan Clark said, but
at year's end, and after the flu shot, school
officials said Devon would have to be evaluated by a
psychologist before the start of the next school year.
The diagnosis of Asperger syndrome was made by a
neuropsychologist in September 2003. The syndrome
often is described as high-functioning autism, a
condition that interferes with the development of the
brain in areas of communication, thought processing
and social contact.
For Lujene Clark, the diagnosis triggered the first of
many overnight Internet research sessions. She said
she was unfamiliar with the syndrome and shocked to
learn it was linked to autism.
"It shocked me, because Devon had met or exceeded all
his developmental milestones," she said. "The symptoms
fit, and the diagnosis fit, but it was inconsistent
with a child that had talked early and walked on his
In her research, she found a study from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in which hair
samples from babies' first haircuts were being sought
from children suffering from autism and related
conditions, including AD/HD.
"We knew something had to have happened to move him
further down the autism spectrum," Lujene Clark said.
"It dawned on me that if they were checking hair
samples, it had to be either pharmaceutical drugs or
metals. I knew Devon hadn't had that kind of drugs,
and I knew it couldn't be metals in our water because
I know Carthage has good water. I would see the tests
when I was on the council."
Clark, who was accustomed to research after four years
on the Carthage City Council, said she then typed into
the Google search site "heavy metal toxicity and
autism" and found page after page of references that
linked heavy metals to developmental problems. At
first, she said, she thought lead was the culprit.
"I kept reading and realized they were talking about
mercury, but I knew there was no way we would let
Devon be exposed to that - we don't even keep a
mercury thermometer in our house," she said. "Then I
realized he had been exposed to it, and we held him
down while it was injected into him."
She said her husband disputed her discovery after she
woke him up at 3 a.m. to tell him what she had found.
"He said there was no way mercury could be in his
vaccines, because everyone knows it's toxic," she
said. "When I pulled up the references, he was just as
horrified as I."
She said they both, at first, set out to prove there
could be no connection between Devon's condition and
the childhood vaccines and a flu inoculation he was
given because of his asthma.
"The EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency)
tells you not to eat too much tuna because of the
mercury," Lujene Clark said. "What we found out is
that Devon's flu shot was the equivalent of 10 cans of
"We went on almost a 24-7 analysis, trying to figure
it out," said Alan Clark.
"I kept doing the research, and then in November we
went to a conference in Dallas where there were
leading researchers who had written papers confirming
the link," Lujene Clark said. "I asked to see their
raw data because I know numbers can be manipulated. I
said, 'I'm from Missouri and you need to show me,' and
On the road
In addition to seeing the research, Clark said, she
and her husband heard success stories from doctors and
parents who reported that children's symptoms had
improved after treatments including chelation to
remove heavy metals from their systems. Chelation
treatments can be done chemically or using saunas, to
remove heavy metals via urine or sweating.
They also met Lyn Redwood, of Atlanta, Ga., founder of
SafeMinds. She formed the group to lobby for the
removal of thimerosal from vaccines after her son,
Will, developed autism.
Lujene Clark said Redwood began researching a
connection between autism and vaccines in 1999, when
the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United
States Public Health Service released a joint
statement calling for the removal of the compound,
which is 49.6 percent mercury, from vaccines.
Clark said Redwood also shared information she had
researched, including some obtained under the Freedom
of Information Act, showing that discussion of
removing mercury from vaccines had started as early as
seven years ago, under the FDA Modernization Act of
Redwood said SafeMinds was formed after she testified
in July 2000 before the U.S. House Committee on
Government Reform, urging that thimerosal be removed
from infant vaccines.
She said that after her son developed autism, tests
determined that his mercury level was 5 parts per
"EPA considers 5.9 parts per million toxic," she said.
"We presented our information to the National
Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration,
and Centers for Disease Control."
Though an Institute of Medicine study released last
May discounted any link between thimerosal and
autism-spectrum diseases, a study by the state
institute in October 2001 said that although data was
inadequate, a link was "biologically plausible."
Redwood said SafeMinds questions the data used in the
second study that discounted any connection. A
representative of the organization was to testify
Thursday in Washington in an attempt to get access to
the raw data.
Redwood said her son, now in the fifth grade, has
improved after a variety of treatments, including
vitamins, minerals and chelation.
Since that conference in November in Dallas, the
Clarks have continued to research. They have attended
more conferences, and have met and corresponded with
researchers, physicians and parents of autistic
Lujene Clark listed the destinations: Atlanta, to meet
with the Redwoods and review their research; Tampa,
Fla., to attend an EPA symposium on mercury; New
Orleans, where both took DAN (Defeat Autism Now)
training; Chicago, for an autism conference; Maryland,
to meet with researchers; and South Carolina, for an
American Academy of Environmental Medicine symposium
She also ticked off, without a note in front of her,
the research she said shows the link between mercury
and autism, and the scientists who did the studies.
She said the Clarks have met with researchers from
institutions such as Columbia University, Northeastern
University, Johns Hopkins, Baylor Medical College, the
University of Washington and the University of
"We're in contact with about a dozen regularly, in
addition to other parents," she said.
The Clarks have launched their own Web site -
www.NoMercury.org - that has received more than 16,000
visits in the past eight months. The site includes
copies of government documents and transcripts of
"That's the great thing about government," Lujene
Clark said. "They love to have meetings, and they love
to take notes. Lots of times, they'll bring in a
transcriptionist and take it down word for word."
The Clarks have lobbied in Jefferson City, Des Moines,
Sacramento and Washington, D.C., on behalf of
legislation that would either ban thimerosal from
vaccines or require that a thimerosal-free version be
available. Though both have worked on behalf of the
legislation, Lujene Clark often goes by herself, if
you don't count the nine file boxes of research papers
she takes along.
She also has been featured on CBS News, worked with
United Press International in an investigation of the
issue, and was interviewed Friday by a Fox News
affiliate in Kansas City.
Bill fails to reach vote
Missouri, this spring, would have been the first state
in the United States to adopt legislation banning
thimerosal from vaccines . The measure passed the
Missouri House 152-4 and received the unanimous
endorsement of a Senate committee. It failed to reach
a Senate vote after it fell victim to a filibuster on
the last day of the session.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Roy Holand, R-Springfield,
said the measure will be introduced again next
Holand, who is term-limited, said several physicians
in the House have offered to be sponsors, and that
state Sen. Norma Champion, of Springfield, will handle
the bill in the Senate.
Holand, an orthopedic surgeon, said he sponsored the
bill in an attempt to "resolve conflicting polices and
information regarding the effect of mercury as a
preservative in immunizations."
"It's been used for 50 years, but there's been an
explosion of kids with autism and related diagnoses in
the last 15 years, at the same time they have
substantially increased the required number of
childhood immunizations," he said.
As a result, by the time a child is 2, he could have
received 15 to 20 injections containing mercury,
"When you add them all up, we believe there can be
toxic levels of mercury," he said.
He said the Clarks have been valuable allies for the
"They've become crusaders not only in Missouri, but
across the U.S. They're making a difference for
children, and they're making a difference in state and
national health-care policy," he said.
Holand predicted that mercury-banning bills will be
introduced next session in 15 or 20 other states.
Lujene Clark said she is hopeful Missouri's bill will
pass next session, but she is disappointed that her
home state was not the first to pass the legislation.
That happened May 14 in Iowa, and parents of autistic
children there credit the Clarks for the bill's
Lujene Clark testified on behalf of the legislation,
Alan Clark appeared on radio shows with researchers
and other parents, and Lujene Clark returned to Des
Moines when the bill encountered last-minute
opposition, said Dana Halverson, of Northwood, Iowa.
"We couldn't have done it without her," Halverson
said. "She brought her research and flew up at a
moment's notice. We have a lot of knowledgeable
parents, but Lujene - we named her 'the queen of
research.' We're in awe of all the information she's
compiled. She and Alan make such an incredible team,
with his background as a physician and her political
Clark also lobbied for thimerosal-banning legislation
in California. It was signed into law Sept. 29 by Gov.
A national ban - H.R. 4169 - has been introduced by
U.S. Reps. Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican who is a
physician, and Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New
Another vocal supporter is U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.,
who attributes his own grandson's autism to a series
of vaccines the child received.
Clark said 48 other congressmen have signed on, so
far, as co-sponsors.
"But not one is from Missouri, even though we met
personally with Roy Blunt and asked for his support,"
Blunt, R-Mo., did not return a call to the Globe
A year ago, Devon was taking six or seven medications
a day as treatment for Asperger syndrome and asthma.
Today, his treatment includes a daily chelation
treatment in an infrared sauna, a twice-weekly B-12
injection, and vitamins and minerals.
He uses his asthma inhaler only occasionally, compared
with several times a day previously, Lujene Clark
He was found to be deficient in human growth hormone
and received treatment for a time from Dr. Karen
Porte, in Joplin.
"We think the sauna has unplugged the pathways, and
he's producing his own hormones," Alan Clark said.
"But we also know of children who aren't using a sauna
that are doing great with the hormone."
Lujene Clark said the couple will spend between
$35,000 and $50,000 this year on Devon's treatment.
Insurance does not cover much, since the regimen is
considered alternative medicine.
The Clarks also point to vastly improved scores on
their son's work at school, Mark Twain Elementary,
where he is in fourth grade.
Previously, "he'd be lucky to get 8 or 10" on a
49-point scale, "and he got a 49 on Wednesday and
Thursday," said Lujene Clark.
And Devon, now age 9, will tell you he's feeling
"More like me," is how he describes it. He'll also
tell you how he felt about Asperger's syndrome.
"I was mad, and I didn't like it," he said.
© 2004 The Joplin Globe Publishing Company