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





You and the Shingles Vaccine

14 07 2011

Who should…and shouldn’t…get the shingles vaccine?

The virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster, doesn’t confine its activity to childhood. For reasons that remain unclear, it can re-emerge in older age as the rash called herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles. Just as you can get chickenpox only once, usually you also have shingles only once. But that “once” can translate into chronic, unbearable pain if a complication known as postherpetic neuralgia develops. This pain, a burning nerve pain severe enough to disrupt sleep, can last for years.

That’s why people who are eligible for the shingles vaccine should get one. But who are those people?

The short answer is, almost anyone age 60 and over. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved this vaccine only for this age group because researchers have no evidence yet that it’s effective in younger groups. It makes sense because one of the risk factors for developing shingles is . . . being over 60. Another risk factor is having had chickenpox before age 1.

The shingles vaccine is not, however, a substitute for the childhood vaccines against chickenpox.

Some people in the over-60 age group should not get the shingles vaccine. Avoid this vaccine if any of the following applies to you:

  • You’ve had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin. The vaccine contains other ingredients, so if you’re deathly allergic to something, check the ingredients list.
  • You’re taking drugs that suppress the immune system or have a disease that does, such as HIV, because this vaccine is a live-virus vaccine.
  • You have tuberculosis.
  • You are or might become pregnant, an unlikely possibility in the 60+ age group.
  • You are moderately to severely ill, including have a fever over 101.3 F. Wait to get the vaccine until you’re better.

Can you get this vaccine if you’ve already had the shingles? Sure, even though you’re not likely to get shingles again. You can also get this vaccine while receiving the influenza vaccine.

Like any vaccine or other medical intervention, the shingles vaccine can have side effects and carry risk. The most common side effects are pain and swelling at the injection site and headache. One large research study of the safety of the vaccine found no difference in rates of negative events between the vaccinated group and the group that received a placebo (a dummy injection). A substudy within that study, however, found a slightly higher rate of serious adverse events in the real vaccine group compared to placebo (1.9% vs. 1.3%). The data did not indicate that the events were vaccine-related.

The effectiveness of this vaccine depends on the outcome in question. Studies indicate that it reduces your risk of getting shingles by about 50%. If you do get shingles, the vaccine is linked to fewer days of pain during the outbreak and shorter periods of pain for people who go on to develop postherpetic neuralgia.

By Emily Willingham





Chickenpox Vaccine and Shingles – Two for the Price of One

20 12 2009

Kaiser Permanente completed a study that reviewed the health records of children who received the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine from 2002 to 2008. This study aimed to compare incidences of shingles in the vaccinated population compared to rates in the unvaccinated population.

Results found decreased rates of shingles in the vaccinated population. The study suggests that vaccinating children for chickenpox also reduces their chances of getting shingles, a secondary viral infection known as herpes zoster that typically results after primary infection with the varicella zoster virus.

Shingles is a very painful skin rash that develops from inactive varicella zoster virus that rests in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. When stress or immune changes in the patient cause the virus to become active, the painful skin rash appears along the nerve.

Anyone who’s had shingles can tell you that it’s something to be avoided at all costs. Do your kids a favor, protect them from chickenpox now, and (possibly) the pain of shingles later.

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