TAMPA — Jeri Moss never knew drinking water could hurt anyone.
So Moss thought she could stretch her budget by adding extra water to the baby formula she fed her son, 5-month-old La'Damian Burton.
Then a week ago, La'Damian had a seizure and stopped breathing. As Moss frantically tried to revive him with CPR, it never crossed her mind that water could be the culprit.
La'Damian was rushed to University Community Hospital, where he is recovering. Moss, 23, held a press conference Monday to warn other parents.
"If I had known it was harmful, I never would have done it," she said.
Water intoxication, especially in babies, can cause levels of sodium in the blood to drop too low. That can cause seizures, brain damage or death.
Doctors think La'Damian will recover completely, said Dr. James Orlowski, chief of pediatrics at the hospital.
"This is a very serious situation, especially in these economic times," Orlowski said. "Most of the public doesn't know" that too much water can be so dangerous for babies.
Orlowski said this is the first case he has seen in a while, but that he has seen parents try to overdilute formula in the past, especially when times are tough.
Moss said she gets free formula from WIC, the federally funded Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. But the powdered formula she gets each month isn't enough to feed La'Damian, so she used less formula — about four scoops when she should have used six. She has been feeding her son that combination since he was born.
Moss said she told WIC staffers that she didn't have enough formula.
"They basically told me there was nothing they could do, and to go find him a food bank," she said.
Orlowski said it was upsetting that WIC couldn't provide enough formula.
"That's what WIC is supposed to be there for," he said. "That's the frustration in this situation."
Officials at the state health department, which administers the program, couldn't comment on Moss' situation Monday. But the agency says the program is designed to be "supplemental."
The best — and cheapest — food for a baby is breast milk. Moss said she tried to nurse her 18-month-old daughter, Yasmine, and she always seemed hungry. So she didn't try to nurse La'Damian.
"We always try to encourage that because it's free," Orlowski said of breast-feeding. "But not all moms can breast-feed. … We do everything we can to promote breast-feeding."
Orlowski said hospital nurses tell new parents about the danger of overdiluting formula.
La'Damian, born weighing 5 pounds 8 ounces, now weighs 8 pounds 6 ounces. He should weigh nearly 12 pounds now, Orlowski said.
The children's father works putting up tents for special events, Moss said, but that work isn't steady. And she isn't working because she is studying to be a medical assistant.
Moss already has put that training to use. She learned infant CPR on the first day of class.
Lisa Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322.