It was August 2013. My 17 month-old son, Michael, had just been released from the hospital after being diagnosed with a very rare intestinal disorder. He had been on continuous intestinal feeding for two weeks and now required a very special diet and multiple specialist appointments. My surgeon husband had just started his first job after 11 years of training. He was very busy trying to build his practice. I was working part-time. And just when I thought life couldn’t be busier, a beautiful family arrived from an African country to be hosted in our home for a month. They had two lively, intelligent children and we looked forward to a happy time together.

We took it a day at a time. By the time we had bathed, dressed, fed (and sometimes re-fed) all four kiddos we moms felt like going back to bed! After about a week, however, we seemed to have settled into a system that involved a lot of time outside our small house exploring the city. This was very exciting for our visiting African family, as they were not used to the well-organized grocery stores and spacious malls.

We all eagerly looked forward to our first weekend together. It was going to be busy with activities including church, a citywide summer parade with fireworks, swimming, and a luncheon with friends. Thursday morning, our African family’s six-year-old girl, Kimmy, woke up with her “jaw hurting”. Nothing appeared abnormal and we thought maybe she’d slept on it wrong. At breakfast, however, every time she tried chewing she would cry, complaining that her jaw hurt. I looked in her mouth and felt her neck—nothing unusual. After breakfast, she stopped complaining and we thought maybe she was getting a cavity.

We spent the morning shopping at Kohl’s. In the afternoon, we took the children to our local children’s museum where they played all afternoon. Kimmy seemed fine, although she complained of a bit of a headache. That evening, when we ate dinner, Kimmy refused to eat. She cried and cried, complaining her neck hurt. I examined it carefully and noticed a little bit of swelling along the left angle of her jaw. That night, she spiked a high fever and spent most of the night crying and moaning her neck hurt.

By the next morning, the entire left side of her neck was swollen and the swelling was spreading to the right side. I took one look and immediately texted a picture to my infectious disease colleague. She immediately called me to say my fears were well founded and I should contact the public health department. Within 24 hours, tests confirmed that Kimmy had mumps. Worse yet, we had traversed both Kohl’s and a children’s museum when Kimmy was most contagious.

Kimmy got really sick. For over a week she had spiking fevers, poor appetite, and swollen salivary glands. Finally, she began to get better. We all breathed a sigh of relief, ready to get out of the house again (we had been quarantined while she was ill). But freedom from isolation was not to come. Exactly 21 days from her first symptoms, Kimmy’s little brother James and my Amy started developing symptoms. James was even sicker than Kimmy and eventually had to have a feeding tube. Thanks to previous immunization, Amy had only a very light case.

I was most worried about Michael, however. With his rare stomach disorder, I was afraid mumps might complicate things significantly. The MMR vaccination can be given as early as 12 months. Many pediatricians don’t give it until the 15-month visit. I had chosen to give it at 12-months. I am so thankful I did. By the time our African friends started getting sick, Michael had already developed sufficient immunity from his 12-month vaccination that he was able to fight off the mumps virus. He did not get mumps. My vaccinated husband and vaccinated self also escaped symptoms. My mother was not so fortunate. She and my father were both exposed. He had been immunized; she had not. She got the mumps; he did not. She was very sick and missed significant days of work.

Our house was quarantined a total of 21 days. The vacation for our friends was almost ruined (we tried to make it up the last few days they were in town). Two children and one adult had significant complications. Others in the Chattanooga area were exposed. The worst part about the entire scenario: all of it was completely preventable. Had our friends’ children been appropriately vaccinated with MMR (not available in their country of origin) this micro-epidemic would not have happened.

But it could have been worse. My husband was just starting his practice, his whole career could have been ruined if he had gotten mumps and inadvertently transmitted it to a patient. What if I’d gotten mumps? Even working part time, I would have missed significant amounts of work and potentially exposed vulnerable children. And what if Michael had gotten mumps. Barely out of the hospital, mumps would have been a significant setback. I am so thankful that the scenario did not get played out. Thanks to immunizations, that little mumps epidemic was stopped in its tracks.

In my next article, I’m going to discuss some of the issues with “cocoon” immunity. I will also discuss some of the legitimate concerns parents raise about vaccines. Read more.


About the Author

Rachel Nelson MD

graduated from Loma Linda University and completed a pediatric residency at UC Davis. She has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. She is married to a colorectal surgeon and together they have two children: Amy and Michael. Dr. Nelson enjoys playing outside with her kids, gardening, and music.

2 comments on “Vaccinations Part 1: My Story

  1. Dear Dr. Nelsen, I am 70 yrs. now. I was born in E-Europe. As child 5,6 I had Mumps. My Mother never took me to the Dr. for that. I remember she applied heat around my neck. We had wooden stove. she would get hot ashes in a sleeve like and rap it round my neck. I have that picture still in my memory. My sibling never got it who where younger then me and around me in the house. It was winter and we all stayed at home. No one ales got sick after me. I had every child disease. Whooping cough, Mumps, Missals, Chicken pocks, Scarlet fiver. My siblings with me Chicken pocks, that I know we all had it.
    Every winter as I was growing older I would get sick with something. Now I understand better. I have allergies to dairy. Milk was deadly for me. My Mother bought caw so we had plenty of fresh milk specially in winter we drink lot of hot milk. The more I was sick the more my Mother would see that I get to drink milk if nothing ales. I think that lowered my immune system, and I became susceptible. I was taken care by my Mother with Home remedies, Herbal teas were used, hot and cold. I have practice some of on my children as well. Mumps soon she started complained of pain in jaw and neck heat would have sooth it and rest and plenty warm tea would take its course and be done and well. Today our children are exposed to so much unhealthy diet. To much process foods and specially dairy is very contaminated with growth hormones and antibiotics . Then we over load children soon as they are born with vaccines. It use to be only 3 or 4 kind of vaccination and was spread through up to the school age. Now they give child up to dozen vaccines and halve of is as soon as they are born. Then when child have fiver after vaccination parents are advised to give Thynalen. Who knows how those drugs of vaccine and Tynalan work together. I just read on fb. 12 year old boy after vaccination shortly died. It happened in Europe. Now they are spreading all that poison through out the world. I did not have any vaccine and have live to be 70, I am sure there are many more out there like me even older.

    • I’m thankful that you have survived the childhood scourges that vaccines help prevent. Unfortunately, your reasoning isn’t very sound. Just because you didn’t succumb to a vaccine preventable illness doesn’t then imply that with-holding vaccines is good for everyone. You are the outlier. Just like there are some smokers who manage to avoid coronary artery disease and live into their 80s doesn’t mean that we should smoke for good health. The majority of smokers suffer the consequences of tobacco. And the majority of people, if unvaccinated, would suffer from the vaccine preventable diseases. Thankfully, most people are vaccinated and there is “herd immunity” which protects people like yourself who choose not to vaccinate (http://www.cdc.gov/scienceambassador/documents/herd-immunity-2013.pdf).

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