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The youngest victims of "Havana Syndrome"

The youngest victims of "Havana Syndrome"
The youngest victims of "Havana Syndrome" 06:14

A constellation of unexplained neurological symptoms commonly known as "Havana Syndrome" has plagued U.S. diplomats stationed abroad since 2016. But U.S. officials are not the only ones who have reported trouble with speech, balance, and eyesight; some of their children have as well.

60 Minutes has found more than 20 children whose parents say they have been affected by unexplained neurological ailments after incidents that occurred while their parents were serving abroad. In one case confirmed by 60 Minutes, a mother and her infant were affected while the baby was breastfeeding. Both have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. 

Another parent whose children were affected is U.S. Commerce Department official Robyn Garfield, who was stationed in China with his wife and two children. Garfield told 60 Minutes that his family was attacked over many months at their home in China in 2018.

After they were medically evacuated from China, they enrolled in a State Department treatment program at the University of Pennsylvania. Garfield said that, while staying in a Philadelphia hotel, his family was targeted again. 

During those incidents, Garfield told 60 Minutes, he believes his family was not only targeted by a weapon, but someone hit specifically at his children in their beds.

"I saw an extremely eerie scene where both were thrashing in their beds asleep," Garfield said. "But both kicking and moving pretty aggressively."

He recalled leaning down to pick up his daughter from her bed, where he heard a distinct noise next to her head that sounded like rushing water. The same thing occurred when he bent down to retrieve his son.

"This is the most difficult aspect of this whole issue for me are the children who've been impacted, both mine as well as many others," Garfield told 60 Minutes.

The children of Canadian diplomats are among those who have experienced unusual symptoms.

"Our children are the forgotten victims of the 'Havana Syndrome,'" said a female diplomat, one of several Canadian officials who spoke with 60 Minutes and asked to not be identified out of fear of being targeted again. 

In 2017, the diplomat and her family were stationed in Havana, Cuba, where she says they suffered multiple episodes in their home. During one of the incidents, she said, her daughter woke up three times overnight with heavy nosebleeds. Since then, her daughter has experienced various symptoms, such as migraines, tinnitus, and spotting in her vision. Her young son has complained of dizziness and issues with his hearing. 

She is one of several Canadian diplomats who has sued the Canadian government for millions of dollars in damages in connection with the health issues they say they suffered while serving in Cuba. The suit alleges that Ottawa did not sufficiently inform, protect, or treat the diplomats and their families.

"We believed our government would have our back if anything happened to us or to our kids," the female diplomat said.

One of her colleagues, who is a co-plaintiff in the suit, also spoke with 60 Minutes. He recounted an incident while living in Cuba that was similar to many of the stories of officials who have experienced "Havana Syndrome": He and his family were awoken by a strange, loud sound in the middle of the night. He said his sons have experienced nosebleeds, dizziness, headaches, and episodes of losing consciousness. 

Two months after the incident, the male diplomat said, a new Canadian official was posted in Havana. Shortly after arriving, the woman, a single mother, asked him what had happened to his family. 

"She was floored because Ottawa did not mention anything about kids being involved, or she never would've shown up," the male Canadian diplomat said. "She was only there for a couple of months before she and her son were affected."

The officials 60 Minutes spoke with said many of the "Havana Syndrome" symptoms they and their children experienced have persisted. Mark Lenzi, a State Department security officer who worked in the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, spoke about the long-term symptoms he has experienced when 60 Minutes first spoke with him in 2019.

"The symptoms were progressively getting worse with me," Lenzi said in 2019. "My headaches were getting worse. The most concerning symptom for me was memory loss, especially short-term memory loss."

When recounting the incidents in Guangzhou that preceded his symptoms, Lenzi recalled hearing a loud sound akin to a marble rolling around a metal funnel. He said he always heard the sound in the same spot at night — over his son's crib.

Today, Lenzi and his young son have just finished treatment at Walter Reed Hospital.

To watch Scott Pelley's latest 60 Minutes reports about "Havana Syndrome," click here. 

The video above was originally published on February 20, 2022 and was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and Will Croxton. It was edited by Will Croxton.

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