Denver doctor talks about damaging effects on refugee children separated from parents

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DENVER -- The medical director of a local refugee clinic described the process of reuniting more than 2,000 immigrant children who have been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border as long and arduous.

The Denver Health Refugee Clinic at the Lowry Family Health Center and its medical director, Dr. Janine Young, see thousands of patients every year who are immigrants. Some of them have been through similar situations to those currently detained at the border.

"I’ve taken care of families like this," Dr. Young told FOX31. "I’ve taken care of a young woman from Honduras who was raped there by a gang member and fled here. And I’ve taken care of a child who was a product of that rape.

"I see kids -- and I’ve been doing this for 20 years -- kids who’ve been traumatized," Dr. Young said.

That trauma is called "toxic stress" in the medical world.

Dr. Young described the stress as similar to the fight-or-flight response when someone is scared. Adults usually experience an increased heart rate and a spike in blood pressure for a few minutes.

But in children with toxic stress, Dr. Young said those symptoms can last for days, weeks or months.

"Over time, when you have stressors, you have an increased risk to diabetes long-term, increased suicide attempts, strokes [and] cardiovascular risk," Dr. Young said. "[Children] start to regress. They start bed-wetting when they were potty trained. They stop talking. They have regression in development."

Dr. Young said the symptoms will only make it more difficult for American authorities to reunite the children with their parents.

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