How Stories Changed My Life

This post originally appeared on the Texas Children’s Blog on April 20, 2015 in honor of the National Infant Immunization Week. It has been reposted here with permission from the author. 
NIIW (1)


National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) is a week dedicated to highlighting the importance of infant immunizations. In honor of NIIW, I thought I’d share why infant immunizations are important to me as a parent and as a public health professional.

While it’s obvious that I am passionate about immunizations, most people don’t know that I had a unique experience a few years ago that stirred my passion and shaped my beliefs about immunization. It all started when I wrote a book.

The book is titled “Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story” and is a collection of stories and photos of individual and families affected by a vaccine-preventable disease.

While writing this book, I met many individuals and families and learned how vaccine-preventable diseases changed their lives.

The first family I met was the Throgmortons, a family who lost their 6 week-old baby to pertussis. A few months later I met the Lastinger and Palmer families, both of whom lost their young daughters to the flu. Emily Lastinger was just 3 years old and Breanne Palmer was just 15 months old when they died. Over the next few years I continued to meet families whose lives were devastated by vaccine-preventable diseases. The Metcalfs nearly lost their daughter, Julieanna, to Hib meningitis. Jenny Wise lost her brother, Andrew, to hepatitis B. Abby Wold and Jamie Schanbaum lost their legs, several fingers, and barely came out alive after contracting meningococcal meningitis. A few years ago I met the Williams who lost their son, Nicolas, to meningococcal meningitis. I’ve also gotten to know the Cary family over the last several years. Billy Cary was 13 when he contracted influenza and nearly died. He spent almost 2 months in the hospital and even today, at age 18, he has lingering effects from his illness. Most recently, I met Micah Kramer and Mayra Camaano who nearly lost their 9-year-old daughter, Chloe, to influenza. There are many more families included in the book that I haven’t mentioned and many more stories yet untold. To read stories from “Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story” please visit here. To watch a video and learn more about Billy Cary and Chloe Kramer’s story, please visit here.

All of these individuals and families were brave enough to allow me to sit in their living room and listen while they shared some of their most intimate memories. As hard I tried to maintain a professional composure during these interviews, I never left with a dry eye.  Instead, I left feeling as though I had shared in their loss.

So why am I passionate about the importance of infant immunizations? Simply put, meeting these families and hearing their stories irrevocably changed my life. Listening to these families’ experiences and living vicariously through them allowed me to fully understand the importance of vaccines. The memory of these experiences has never left me and undoubtedly, it has shaped me as a mother.

Pictured below are my two daughters. They are 2 and 4 years old. Like all parents, I want to protect them whenever I can. So I strap them securely in their car seats every day. I IMG_5472make sure they wear helmets whenever they ride their bikes. I lather them with sunscreen and bug spray when we’re outside. And of course, I immunize them – on time, every time. Like any parent, it is difficult for me to watch either of them endure pain, even if it is the relatively quick and minor pain of a needle in the arm or leg. But whenever I take my children for their shots, I remind myself of these stories and know that this one moment of pain will prevent much more serious pain, sorrow and loss like these families experienced. It quickly mitigates any anxiety, stress or fear. Whenever the slightest doubt about vaccines creeps in or you start to feel anxiety about vaccinating your baby, rest assured that vaccines are safe, effective and the best tool we have to prevent our children from devastating infectious diseases.

In the end, we are fortunate if we don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way.

Be sure also to check out the great videos also produced by Texas Children’s: Facing Influenza and Facing Meningitis

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