Victims of Vaccine-Preventable Disease
Vaccine-preventable diseases are a very real threat to children who are not properly protected. Each year children do get sick, and some of them die, from illnesses such as influenza (flu), pertussis and meningitis. Parents who have lost children to these devastating, avoidable diseases share their stories.
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Landon Carter Dube
On January 15, 2010, five-week old Landon Carter Dube went in to his doctor's office for a check-up. Carter's parents expressed concerns that he had been mildly spitting up his formula and seemed to be fussy when he went to sleep at night. The doctor suggested switching Carter's formula and monitoring his crying, but warned that the change may cause him to spit up more. After his parents switched his formula, Carter's parents noticed a change in their son. On Tuesday, January 19, his mother took his temperature and found him to be running a fever of 100.1. They immediately brought him back to visit the pediatrician.
Carter's breathing rate alarmed the nurses who treated him, prompting them to transfer Carter to Levine's Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carter was admitted to the Progressive Care Unit while the doctors speculated RSV, pneumonia, upper respiratory infection and pertussis (whooping cough) as possible diagnoses. Carter's first pertussis test didn't yield an accurate reading, so it had to be redone. After receiving a positive diagnosis for pertussis, Carter was admitted nasal oxygen and taken for chest x-rays while doctors suctioned his nose and lungs.
Carter seemed to be stable by Thursday, January 21 and his doctor decided if his progress continued, he would be able to go home as early as Saturday morning. But that Friday, Carter started coughing, lost his breath and turned blue, prompting doctors to send Carter to the PICU for observation. Early Sunday, the doctor's decided to put Carter on a respiratory breathing device. This would be the last time Carter's family would see him awake.
Later on Sunday, Carter was put on an Oscillator because his fragile body wasn't strong enough to handle the respiratory machine. On Tuesday evening, surgeons implanted an ECMO machine in Carter to provide cardiac and respiratory support. Carter emerged from the surgery with tubing down the side of his neck and ECMO technicians monitoring the status of his oxygen flow. His inability to release urine and the stress from his illness forced his tiny body to swell to nearly twice its size.
On January 28, the doctor's offered the last available medicines they hoped would treat Carter's debilitating illness. The medicine was administered around 3:30 P.M. on Thursday, January 28. After a half an hour, Carter's family was forced to say their goodbyes. Carter's IV in his foot was now completely blown and doctors were no longer receiving a reading of his blood pressure. His kidneys had completely stopped working, leaving his fragile body unable to handle the rigors of dialysis. At 5:06 that evening, Carter passed away from pertussis, leaving his family devastated and confused as to how this could happen so quickly.
Despite this tragedy, Carter's family is adamant about sharing their story with others, in an effort to prevent other children from suffering from vaccine-preventable diseases.
To read Carter's story in his mother's words, click here.
To learn more about pertussis, click here.
Callie Van Tornhout
Craig and Katie Van Tornhout wanted nothing more than a younger sibling for their son, Cole. After five years of miscarriages, Katie finally gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named Callie Grace. Callie was born six weeks early, but was strong and healthy. In January 2010, one-month old Callie developed a strange, dry cough. Katie took her to the pediatrician, who gave the baby a checkup but found no real signs of illness and sent the family home.
Over the next few days, Callie's coughing continued, she wasn't eating and she seemed lethargic, so her parents took her back to the doctor. During the visit, Callie suddenly stopped breathing. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed a variety of tests. Callie eventually regained her breathing and color and her parents were hopeful she would recover. But that Friday night, Callie again stopped breathing. Family members watched from behind a glass wall as a team of doctors and nurses performed CPR. Callie could not be saved. She was only 38 days old.
Days later, tests and the coroner's report confirmed that Callie had died of Acute Pertussis Pneumonia. The diagnosis shocked the family as they had taken care to keep Callie in the house and away from family and friends to protect her from sickness.
In the last few years, pertussis, or "whooping cough," cases have increased, especially in northern Indiana, where Callie and her family lived. As pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease, experts point to a growing number of parents choosing not to immunize their children according to the Recommended Child Immunization Schedule as one possible reason for the surge.
The DTaP vaccine (pediatric Diphtheria, Tetanus and acellular Pertussis vaccine) is given to most babies as a series of shots starting at 2 months of age. It is recommended that new mothers and other caregivers receive the Tdap vaccine (adult Tetanus, Diphtheria and acellular Pertussis vaccine) to protect children too young to be fully protected from these diseases. Some hospitals also regularly provide new mothers the Tdap vaccine shortly after they give birth, but the practice, known as "cocooning," is a hospital decision made on a case-by-case basis and is not mandated. Callie was too young to receive the pertussis vaccine.
Despite their heartache, the Van Tornhouts hope sharing their story might help other parents learn about pertussis and the importance of immunizing children.
To read Callie's story in her mother's words, click here.
To learn more about pertussis, click here.
Luke Duvall, a healthy, athletic 15-year-old, was exhausted on the evening of October 2, 2009 but geared up and played in his high school football game anyway. The next day he awoke feeling worse, and by Sunday, he had a fever of 104.3 degrees. His parents worried that he was suffering from H1N1 influenza (flu) and tried to get him into see a doctor but the first available appointment was not until Monday afternoon. The fever continued through Monday, and when his father took him to the medical clinic, Luke's parents fears were confirmed when he was diagnosed with the flu. He was sent home to rest and was given diarrhea and nausea medicine. One important thing that the doctor overlooked was that Luke's lung was filling up with mucus.
The next day Luke began spitting up blood and had great difficulty breathing. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. With his lung packed with bloody mucus, Luke was kept in the ICU in critical condition. The following morning Luke was medevaced to Arkansas Children's Hospital for more intensive care. Luke was tested and eventually diagnosed with H1N1.
Luke could not breathe without a ventilator and remained in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for days. The doctors induced a coma so that he would remain unconscious and not have to bear the pain and discomfort of the ventilator. His condition would improve and then worsen again, a cycle that was very difficult for his parents to witness. After a week, Luke suffered a serious setback. The doctors called in his family and his mother fell on her knees to pray for his life. From that point forward, Luke improved as his lungs got better and his blood pressure stayed normal. Luke came out of his coma after 12 days but a tube remained his throat for the next five days. He was extubated on October 24 and entered rehab four days later in order to regain his basic living skills.
One month after the onset of H1N1, Luke returned home 36 pounds lighter and substantially weaker. Thanks to the support of his family, doctors and the rehabilitation workers, Luke has returned to school and continues to get stronger. He is now gearing up for the baseball season.
While Luke has his health back, he continues to think about the young children he witnessed suffering from H1N1 in the hospital some who didn't make it out alive. He wonders how different things would have played out if he and the others in the hospital had been vaccinated against H1N1. Now, Luke serves as a spokesperson for Every Child By Two, raising awareness about the importance of the influenza vaccine.
To read Luke's remarkable story in his own words, click here.
For more information on H1N1,click here.
The afternoon of January 23, 2008, 15-month old Julieanna Metcalf did not wake up from her daily nap on time. She had been running a temperature, but her mother, Brendalee, assumed she was suffering from the typical cold symptoms expected during a Minnesota winter. Brendalee tried giving her daughter a bath, hoping to make her feel better, but grew alarmed when Julieanna could not hold her head up in the bathtub, similar to a newborn. Brendalee rushed her daughter to the hospital, where doctors suspected a particularly severe case of influenza. After intravenous fluids did not quell Julieanna's symptoms, the doctor admitted her for an overnight stay. At this point, the doctor decided to put Julieanna on an antibiotic that also happened to work for meningitis, a fateful decision that would inevitably save Julieanna's life.
The next morning, Julieanna's physician feared she might have meningitis and warned that she would need to undergo some invasive procedures: a lumbar puncture and a CAT scan. The doctors questioned Brendalee about Julieanna's vaccines, including whether she had received the Hib vaccine. Brendalee had protected her child by ensuring Julieanna received all recommended vaccines. When Julieanna's immunization records showed she was fully immunized, the doctors ran more tests. These tests revealed Julieanna suffered from an immune deficiency, which prevented the vaccines from working as well as they should.
When Julieanna was transferred to Minneapolis Children's Hospital, her brother asked, "Mommy, Julie's going to die, isn't she?"
Julienna endured several seizures, brain surgery to remove a mass of fluid, sleepless nights in intensive care and endless days attached to a ventilator, but was finally released from the hospital on February 15, 2008. Though she overcame the infection, she lost all motor skills, including the ability to swallow, crawl, walk or speak. She remains a full year behind in her developmental skills. Julieanna is part of a group of immune-compromised children who rely on others for protection against disease. Her immune system is still weak, and she must receive three injections a week of immune globulin to prevent catching diseases from her peers. Her mother is worried that Julieanna may never be adequately protected from Hib and other diseases.
Julieanna's mother wants to help correct the misinformation that deters people from protecting their children against deadly diseases such as Hib. Parents need to understand that when they choose not to vaccinate, they make a decision for other people's children, as well. Somebody else chose Julieanna's path. As her mother said, "I still see the scar every day; she shouldn't have had to go through this."
For more information on Hib,click here.
Ryan Wayne Milley
Ryan Milley was 18 years old when he developed a fever and earache on Father's Day. During the early morning hours, Ryan entered his parent's room. He was weak, and in the dim light his mother noticed a rash on his stomach and could literally see blood vessels rupturing all over his body. After 25 years in the medical profession, Frankie Milley knew that her son had meningitis, and he was in trouble. She rushed him to the hospital but by the time they arrived at the ER, Ryan's legs were numb. Frankie had to carry her 6'2" grown son into the hospital as she screamed for help.
As he was rushed through the ER, multiple doctors and nurses worked on him. He was hypertensive, meaning he had a heart rate over 185, and shortly thereafter began to vomit blood. A few hours after his arrival at the hospital, Ryan's heart stopped. When it started of its own accord, Ryan's father had a chance to tell him he loved him. Ryan replied "I know" before his heart stopped once more. He died at 10:53 a.m., June 22, 1998, with Meningococcemia. Ryan was Frankie and Bob's only child.
Since his death in 1998, Frankie has devoted her life to her organization started in Ryan's memory, Meningitis Angels. This organization brings together survivors of meningitis and families who have lost loved ones to this disease, and they work together to save lives by preventing bacterial meningitis through educating the public on the disease and the vaccines to prevent it. Please visit www.meningitis-angels.org for more information.
For more information on Meningitis,click here.
During the evening of December 20, 2003, 15-month-old Breanne Palmer developed a slight fever and began to show symptoms similar to her brother who had recently been diagnosed with influenza. The next morning, Breanne's fever rose to 101.5 F. Her parents took her to the pediatrician where the influenza diagnosis was made. Breanne was given antibiotics and sent home.
After visiting the doctor, Breanne took a long nap and her temperature began to slowly come down. Her parents continued to monitor her condition and give Breanne medication for her fever. When Breanne went to bed that night her temperature was almost normal. However, as the night wore on, Breanne's temperature climbed again very rapidly reaching 105.5 F. Her parents put Breanne in a bath to help bring down her fever, but she began to have difficulty breathing so they called 911.
At the hospital, Breanne's temperature rose to 107 F. Her temperature was brought down by the doctors in the emergency room, but Breanne had to be transferred to another hospital for more intensive care. A special life-support machine was needed as the virus began to attack Breanne's heart and brain stem. After being transferred to yet another hospital, doctors told Breanne's parents that the damage to her young body was too extensive. There was nothing the life-support machine could do. Breanne died in her mother's arms on December 23, 2003 from Influenza A.
Breanne's parents tried to get her vaccinated against the flu in early December but because she was diagnosed with an ear infection at the time her pediatrician would not vaccinate her.
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about what if my daughter had been vaccinated against the flu? I believe had she been vaccinated she would still be alive today, and I would be able to hear her laughter."
— Denise Palmer, Mother of Breanne
Since losing their daughter to the flu, Breanne's parents have joined other parents who have lost their child to the flu in an effort to make sure children are protected against this deadly virus. Go to www.familiesfightingflu.org for more information.
For more information on Influenza,click here.
Gabrielle "Brie" Romaguera
Brie was born on January 13, 2003, weighing only 5 pounds and 12 ounces. Brie was perfectly healthy until early one Saturday morning, February 8, when she began to have a severe cough. Her parents' suspected respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and their pediatrician told them to take Brie to the ER. There, the doctors did some tests and decided that Brie simply had a cold, and gave her parents a prescription.
By Tuesday Brie was still coughing so her parents took her to the pediatrician's office for a breathing treatment. She still did not get any better, and by Wednesday evening her father and mother were taking turns sitting up with her so that they could help her when she coughed. By morning, exactly one month after Brie was born, she was coughing so hard she turned blue around her mouth. The pediatrician sent Brie and her parents straight to the local hospital but, after watching Brie pass out after another violent coughing fit, he made the decision to Helivac Brie to a larger hospital.
When Brie arrived at the hospital, tests revealed she had severe acid reflux, and the doctors thought that she was choking on her milk. They decided a surgery would correct the problem, but when Brie came out of surgery the coughing had still not stopped. The doctors tested her for pertussis (also known as whooping cough) and decided to treat her for the disease while they waited for the test results to return. The test results came back positive, but the treatment wasn’t given early enough.
The first machine they put Brie on was a ventilator. When that did not help, they decided to put Brie on the ECMO machine. This helped her breathe and helped her heart so that her body could try to heal. She then started to leak fluid into her tissues, and this caused her to blow up to about ten times her normal size. She was put on dialysis and also had a tube put in her stomach to help release some of the fluid. She finally began to show signs of recovery as well as some activity in her brain, until it began to bleed. Because she was on ECMO she also had to receive heparin, which is a blood thinner. The thinning of her blood caused the bleeding in her brain. It clotted later that day, but then the opposite side of her brain began bleeding.
The doctors had to take Brie off the ECMO machine. On March 6, they called Brie's parents to explain their daughter's situation and give the family enough time to come and say their goodbyes to her. Brie's mother held her one last time and rocked her while Brie's father read her a story. She lived for about 30 minutes after they turned off the machine. She was only 52 days old and just 7 days short of receiving her 1st DTaP shot.
Do you have a story you'd like to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories about the victims of vaccine-preventable disease, please visit the Texas Children's Hospital Web site here.