A Northern California mother fell victim to a scam after she posted on social media that she needed help finding specific baby formulas in order to feed her 11-year-old daughter who has a rare disease.
While parents across the country are coping with a baby formula shortage brought on in part by the nation’s biggest formula maker, Abbott, temporarily closing its plant in Michigan after several children fell ill with bacterial infections, the shortfall hit Keely Aguilar of Santa Rosa even harder than most. Her 11-year-old daughter, Nataliyah, has a condition known as Bainbridge Roper Syndrome, which affects all aspects of her cognitive and developmental abilities, including her digestive system, leaving her unable to eat solid food or process many of the common baby formulas found at grocery stores.
Nataliyah needs medical-grade formulas—specifically, Neocate Junior or PurAmino—to sustain her, but when her mother turned to Facebook and Instagram for help, she was besieged by criminals looking to prey upon those in need, ABC7 reports.
“I’ve had some amazing people, mostly colleagues and friends who have gone above and beyond to place personal orders on Amazon, and I have one friend sourcing it from Mexico right now for us,” Aguilar, a single mother and small business owner, who has already spent thousands on formula that is usually covered by insurance, told the station. “I’ve also had people reach out that are scammers.”
After discussing her predicament online, Aguilar said she received several messages from people who said they wanted to help. Among them was a woman who offered to sell Aguilar baby formula for $250.
“I thought I was doing my due diligence in asking a lot of questions. I asked for pictures, I asked for expiration dates on the cans. She had all the right answers,” Aguilar said. “And so I sent money and then her profile on Facebook disappeared.”
Aguilar has yet to receive the formula, and since then, she believes that she’s been contacted by other potential scammers.
“It’s shocking that people would prey on this segment of our population,” she told ABC7. “These are the most vulnerable people we have out there, and our families are already struggling everyday, so it’s definitely disheartening.”
The scam was another setback for Aguilar.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare,” she said. “Until these formulas are back in stock at our supply company and we can receive regular shipments again, we are going to be going through this.”
Aguilar isn’t the only parent who has been forced to take desperate steps in order to obtain formula and feed their child. According to the Los Angeles Times, thousands of lactating parents from across California have been donating their breastmilk to others who are parents of groups on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Last week, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to speed the production of baby formula and authorized flights to import supply from overseas, but that won’t necessarily help Aguilar.
“Families across our country are feeling the burden of the baby formula shortage, and it is distressing to hear that parents like Santa Rosa resident Keely Aguilar are unable to find the formula that her daughter needs to survive,” North Bay congressman Mike Thompson told ABC7 in a statement. “I have inquired with the Department of Health and Human Services to find the formula that Keely’s daughter needs and will continue to be in contact with the administration about the recent Operation Fly Formula shipment.”
Although the specific formula brands Nataliyah needs are not included in the emergency shipment, Alfamino formula is included and is considered a viable alternative. Aguilar told ABC7 that she is willing to give it a shot, though she thinks the long-term solution would be for Abbott to reopen its plant. Aguilar had been using Abbott’s EleCare brand formula for years but has been forced to use alternatives since the plant closed, she said in an Instagram video.
Abbott CEO Robert Ford penned an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, apologizing for the inconvenience. “We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” he wrote.
Aguilar told ABC7, “Right now we really need to get people to advocate for getting that plant to open up again. And finding out what our officials are going to do to make sure the formula gets into the hands of the people who really need it.”
If she’s able to find Neocate Junior in stock on Amazon’s website, it can cost upwards of $300 for 56.4 ounces of formula, which only lasts her daughter a few days, she said in the Instagram video.
Aguilar fears that if the Abbott facility isn’t reopened soon and she runs out of formula, she will be forced to hospitalize Nataliyah.
“Hospitalizing my child to feed her is just beyond comprehension,” Aguilar says in the Instagram video. “It’s completely disturbing.”
Aguilar started a GoFundMe to raise funds to purchase the medical-grade formulas for her daughter.
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