A Mother’s Legacy

25 06 2012

I would like to tell you about my mother and all mothers like her who suffered through the loss of a child from an infectious disease. Raising a family in the hills of Kentucky, where most people were too poor to pay for the little, if any, medical help available, my mother struggled to keep her family healthy.

When one of her babies became seriously ill, my mother and her parents did everything they could to try and help her. Despite their efforts, my mother watched her child, Patsy Lynn, die from whooping cough. While making arrangements for Patsy’s funeral my mother learned that another one of her children was gravely ill. Both children were buried on the same day, in the same casket, in the same grave next to my mother’s church.

After the death of two children, my family was able to relocate to the Cincinnati area where medical attention was more readily available. We all had our vaccines as my mother was determined not to lose another child to unseen viruses and she insisted on washing and boiling everything that we touched.

I lived through the effect the loss had upon my mother’s life. The fear of disease was so real then, but many of us today forget what it was like to live in a time when diseases like measles, polio and smallpox were so much more common and deadly.

I remember the time that I was not allowed to play with a friend because her mother had been sent to the “TB hospital” and I vividly remember the Sunday that we spent standing in the long lines to receive our sugar cubes laced with the polio vaccine.

During the early ’60s, I remember being put to bed in a dark room when it was thought I might have the measles. Most of all, I’ll never forget that several of my teachers wore braces because of the effects of polio.

My mother tried her best to prevent us from succumbing to any disease which may shorten our lives, so I’m thankful that when she died of cancer in 1982 she did not know that I had somehow contracted the hepatitis B virus.

In June 1995, I was diagnosed with hepatitis B about a week before my 25th wedding anniversary. A doctor told my husband that I had a sexually transmitted disease and that he should be tested and vaccinated. What the doctor failed to tell us at the time was that this hepatitis could be spread in many other ways. I had complete trust in my husband and, thank God he had faith and trust in me, so this suggestion of sexually promiscuity did not harm our marriage.

Within the week we were informed that my husband tested negative, as did my children, who have all been vaccinated.

I have tried for years to find out where I got the virus. Could it have been from my mother who died of liver cancer? Did I get it in grade school, or from dental work, surgeries? Did I get it in one of the hospitals or clinics where I have worked as an interpreter? Did I get it from a child who ran into me on the playground, or from the little girl who bit me while I was working in the Cincinnati Public Schools?

The only thing I can be sure of is that I did not get hepatitis B from sexual contact, drug use or tattoos. However, I have now arrived at a place of peace in my life by accepting the fact that I will never know the path of transmission—and I no longer search for that answer.

And this is my mother’s legacy to me: protect your children the best you can.

By Barbra Anne Malapelli Haun

Polio Vaccine – Why We Still Need It

15 12 2011

Polio’s been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians endured it. Archaeologists attest to children living along the Nile being struck down by the virus.

Even so, there were no major outbreaks until the 1900s.

Ironically, it was the increase in sanitary living conditions that provided a way for polio to devastate communities. Prior to the improved sanitation in wealthier countries, babies were exposed to polio while still protected by their moms’ antibodies. This allowed them to fight off infection and develop immunity.

However, during this time when we were cleaning up our act, but before we had vaccines to protect us against polio, the older kids and adults who’d lost their moms’ antibodies were unprotected and were vulnerable targets for the poliovirus.

Franklin Roosevelt is a famous example. He was 39 years old when he became infected in 1921, and he spent the rest of his life working to support polio research, in addition to being President of the United States.

Polio vaccines were introduced in the U.S. in the ‘50s and ‘60s, halting the episodic surges of infection experienced in this country.

My teenager was vaccinated against polio when the oral vaccine was still being used in this country. I remember warnings from her pediatrician about the need to be careful during diaper changes and to always wash my hands afterward.

I hesitated when she told me about the polio vaccine she wanted to give my daughter. Polio was not a common infection in the world in the 1990s, and I debated if the risk of vaccination was worth it. After all, 144 of the 152 cases of polio in the U.S. between 1980 and 1999 were caused by the live oral polio vaccine, not the wild poliovirus.

In the end, I had her vaccinated because I felt it was the safer choice for her and those around her. When it comes to eradication of a disease, we don’t stop vaccinating when it’s mostly gone. We keep vaccinating until it’s long gone.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative aims to see the last case of wild poliovirus. They will likely succeed and you can be a part of this amazing work. Just donate—every single dollar helps.

Thanks to Parents Who Protect for allowing us to re-post this piece.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of elvisinfonet.com

End Polio Now

15 08 2011

What do Donald Sutherland, Joni Mitchell, Robert McNamara, and Arthur C. Clarke have in common?

Polio. They all survived polio.

This disease, which may be thousands of years old, was clinically described in the 18th century as a “debility of the lower extremities.” Later, in the U.S., it was labeled infantile paralysis.

Fast-forward a couple of centuries to the 1950s, when Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine and right on his heels was Dr. Albert Sabin, with another vaccine that became widely used. Cases of polio plummeted in most countries, but each year there were still hundreds of thousands of kids infected.

Fresh from the success of smallpox eradication, an opportunity to do the same to polio was envisioned and energies were renewed in 1988, when the World Health Assembly launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Twenty years later, the World Health Organization reports on the success of the Initiative:

“Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries then, to 1604 reported cases in 2009 . . .”

That’s pretty good. But, polio keeps flaring up. Areas and countries that were once polio-free have seen the virus imported by those not protected through vaccination. In 2009-2010, 23 countries saw such activity. Seems we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Dr. Bruce Aylward explains how we’ll stop polio—for good.

We’re on a fine edge. Tilt one way and we eradicate polio from the world. Tilt the other, and we’ll never see the end of it.

Help spread the word. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Every kid deserves to grow up free of this disease.

By Trish Parnell

Polio, Why Aren’t You History?

23 04 2009

Why are we still reading about polio?  This virus (of which there are three types) won’t go away which is a tragedy when there are good vaccines to prevent infection.

The current status info from the CDC reads like this:

   Since 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established, the incidence of polio has decreased from an estimated 350,000 cases annually to 1,655 reported in 2008.

   Cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) type 2 were last reported in October 1999, and indigenous WPV types 1 and 3 (WPV1 and WPV3) have been eliminated from all but four countries worldwide (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan).

This month, a report on PBS  discussed the rumors spread in northern Nigeria a few years ago.  The word on the street was that the polio vaccination campaign was a U.S.-led conspiracy against Muslims. Rather than protecting children, the vaccine supposedly made the little ones infertile.  As these rumors spread, several regional governments in northern Nigeria suspended the vaccination program – some for as long as 13 months.

After the CDC and others spent months working with leaders in the area, explaining where the vaccine comes from and its safety, the people started to come around.  Now, in Nigeria, the vaccination campaign is back, yet cases of polio in Nigeria and elsewhere continue to ebb and flow.

So, why are we still reading about polio?

  • Not everyone is getting vaccinated. 
  • Symptoms are slow to appear after initial infection, making it harder to get a jump on the virus when it first appears. 
  • In poorer countries, the public health infrastructure is weak, making it difficult to educate the population about the disease and prevention methods. 
  • Vaccine delivery and administration is affected by the lack of government support.
  • Those administering the vaccines are sometimes improperly trained and/or submit false reports with inflated numbers of people receiving vaccinations.

Where’s the end?  No one seems to know.  Polio should be history, but instead, it continues to be the nightly news.