LETHBRIDGE - "So, this will happen to be his life for the next year... He's got to get tested to make sure there's no trace of it (HIV)."
Julio and Amie Ceron's son was walking home from middle school in north Lethbridge near Stan Siwik Pool Wednesday afternoon (May 30), picking up rocks from the ground along the way and tossing them around with his friends, like many kids do.
What the 12-year old didn't see, was that underneath one of those rocks was a discarded syringe. The cap was on it, but the needle was bent to the side, poking out of the bright orange plastic cap.
His father Julio, says his son's finger was pricked, and he immediately ran home to tell them what had happened.
"He was crying about it, he was really concerned. We looked at it. We took the steps of calling the Alberta Health Link... then we went to the hospital to go get the bloodwork tested and sent off to Calgary."
Just prior to that says Ceron, he went back to the area where his son saw the needle and found it.
"The needle was still sitting there on the ground," he explained. "I picked it up because I didn't want any other kids to get punctured by it. I put it in a little tupperware, I sealed it and then I took it down to the Norbridge Pharmacy down the street and spoke to them about it."
LNN went to the store and spoke with pharmacist "Terry," who confirmed that Ceron indeed came in Wednesday afternoon with a needle he said had punctured his son's finger.
"The sharp part of the needle was poking through the side of the cap. So whoever had used it, had tried to put the cap on, but the needle part was poking through that plastic tip."
The needle was then placed into a biohazard container where it remains.
"We're praying that his results are going to be good and that nothing comes from it," said Ceron. "But still, it's something scary that you don't want to see around your neighborhood.
"He has to get tested for everything. Hep A, Hep B, HIV - all those things just to make sure that nothing shows up whatsoever. And then he'll have to go seven weeks later to get tested again to see if anything kind of got missed."
There are four schools in the immediate area where the needle was found, including Wilson Middle School, Winston Churchill High School, Park Meadows Elementary School and Galbraith Elementary School.
What also worries the family is that discarded needles are showing up in those areas, where many wouldn't think they would.
And both Ceron and his wife Amie believe more precautions need to be taken by the City of Lethbridge and ARCHES. They are advocating for a needle exchange program and have signed a local petition.
"They need to have more stringent rules put in place. We need more accountability there."
At Monday's meeting, Lethbridge City Council voted 7-2 to use $150,000 in provincial funding to expand the Downtown BRZ Clean Sweep Program, and to expand needle pick up to other areas of the city.
Mayor Chris Spearman said some months, ARCHES is able to recover up to 97 per cent of the needles they hand out. In less than one year, council has approved about $236,000 in either municipal or provincial funding for used needle debris recovery, and related expenses.
But that's of little comfort to the parents, who do admit everyone shares a responsibility to educate their children about the dangers of touching or picking up used needles or other drug paraphernalia.
"This is a scenario where my son reached out for a rock, didn't see a needle right there, and happened to puncture his hand."
Both parents say there are hundreds of others online supporting them and expressing concerns about how to protect their children; but there is also a lot of anger and frustration.
"You have to get enough people concerned. And not just - we assume it's happening downtown - but it's happening everywhere," says Amie.
"It used to be hey, don't play in the sand, you might find dog poo. But now it's like, hey, don't play in the sand, you might find a needle."
Julio says they should find out the initial results of the blood tests in the next few days.
The City of Lethbridge has a safe needle disposal information page for those who would like more information, along with a printable guide and telephone contact information for HealthLink, ARCHES and the Needle Disposal Hotline. https://www.lethbridge.ca/living-here/Waste-Recycling/Pages/Safe-Needle-Disposal.aspx
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