Rebecca’s Son

24 10 2011

(Christopher died from a devastating case of chickenpox. His mom, Rebecca, shared her son’s story until the day she died, and we’d like to share it with you. This is taken from testimony she gave to a U.S. House of Representatives’ committee.)

My name is Rebecca Cole, and I am the mother of five children. I am speaking to you today because I have faced the worst nightmare any parent can possibly face. There is no experience on earth that compares to the horror and devastation of losing a child. It is shattered dreams, crushed wishes, and a future that suddenly vanishes before our eyes. It cannot be wished away, slept away, prayed away, or screamed away. It is darkness, agony, and shock. It leaves our hearts broken, bleeding, and bursting with pain.

My life changed forever on June 30, 1988, when I had to stand by helplessly as an infectious disease claimed the life of my oldest child, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, at the age of 12.

Christopher was a beautiful little boy who had light blonde hair, and deep, brown eyes. He was full of compassion, joy, and energy. He loved baseball, and every living creature on the earth. He wanted to be a scientist or doctor. I can honestly say that my son was one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever known, and I am proud to have been his mother.

Christopher was born a very healthy child, but at the age of eight he developed asthma. It was never a problem for him, and it never kept him from doing the things he loved. But, on June 16, 1988, four years after he was diagnosed, he suffered his first and only severe asthma attack. He had to be hospitalized and was treated with all of the normally prescribed drugs, including a corticosteroid. (Anti-inflammatory drugs used in asthma, arthritis, allergies, etc.) He was released four days later with several medications to finish at home, and he was well on his way to recovery.

On June 23, exactly one week after the asthma attack, he broke out with the chickenpox. “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it,” I told him. What I didn’t know was that the corticosteroid had lowered his body’s immune response and he could not fight the disease. The chickenpox began to rampage wildly through his young body. As I drove him to the emergency room, on June 27, my four younger children watched silently in shock and horror as their brother went into seizures, went blind, turned gray, and collapsed due to hemorrhaging in his brain.

That afternoon, Christopher was flown from Camp Lejuene’s Naval Hospital to East Carolina University’s Medical Center, but the chickenpox was uncontrollably sweeping through him like a wildfire, and there was nothing anyone could do.

The next day Christopher suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. As my son lay swollen beyond recognition, and hemorrhaging from every area imaginable, including out into the blisters on his skin, I learned that a vaccine existed, but was not yet licensed by the FDA—a vaccine that could have prevented the unimaginable suffering of my child, and all who knew him.

On June 30, 1988, exactly one week after breaking out with chickenpox, Christopher passed away. The chickenpox virus had destroyed every organ in his body, and it cut pieces from the hearts of everyone who witnessed its devastation.

Christopher wanted to be a scientist or doctor, but because of the unavailability of a vaccine, we will never know what contributions he might have made to society.

Vaccines prevent countless deaths each year. Without them the number of valuable human beings we’d lose would be staggering. There are children and adults who come in contact with the public everyday who would die if they were exposed to the diseases we can prevent.

If everyone around them is vaccinated, they are also protected. We owe it to them and to ourselves as a nation to achieve the highest level of protection possible. We must win the war against infectious disease, and vaccines are our most powerful weapons. We cannot win, however, if we do not use them. Leaving any of our population unprotected is like surrendering to a defeatable foe. We must never surrender.

Rebecca Cole


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