In Recognition of World Pneumonia Day
Nov 12, 2010

It’s worth the poke to protect the world’s children.
By Shannon Duffy Peterson

A life changing event – one involving your children – will make any parent regret what they could have done. 

I have firsthand experience of this as I held my daughter Abigale in my arms while she died in 2001 of our world’s biggest vaccine-preventable killer of children, pneumococcal disease.  Abigale was just shy of her 6th birthday.
My name is Shannon Duffy Peterson and I am a disease prevention advocate for Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDs) and a parent of four children.  My youngest are at home in Sleepy Eye, MN, and my oldest, Abigale, is up in heaven with her grandparents.
In 2001, my five-year-old daughter became a statistic when she died of a vaccine preventable disease.  Abigale became infected with chickenpox and, while battling that disease, she became infected with the pneumococcal bacteria.
When our children were born, my husband, DuWayne, and I were adamant about vaccinating our children.  We wanted our children to be protected against everything.  We wanted healthy children.  At that time, we had a pediatrician who did not push vaccinations and did not recommend the most recent vaccines available.  Consequently, my children did not have their chickenpox and pneumococcal vaccinations.

February 18, 2001, began as a normal Sunday.

We took the children to Sunday school, went to church together, played throughout the day, dancing with them to music and then relaxing with them before bedtime by playing a board game.  Abigale said she suddenly wasn’t feeling well and had a headache.  We had her lie down, took her temperature, it was 101.5, and gave her some Motrin.
She started to vomit up the medicine.  We thought she had the flu.  We thought this was strange because she’d had the same illness and a sinus infection two weeks earlier, but she was in kindergarten and we knew of the many germs the kids pass around.  We became alarmed when a rash developed all over her body that we had never seen before, but suspected it to be a high fever rash.  I called the emergency room and was told it was a flu going around with high fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea and to just treat the fever alternately with Motrin and Tylenol and a tepid bath.
Abigale was tired and we put her to bed planning to check on her quite frequently but hoping she would sleep off the flu.  Throughout the night we kept changing her bedding, bathing her to break the fever, even though she seemed pretty lethargic, and ended up sleeping with her to comfort her.
We awoke later to her crying for “Mommy,” as she had fallen out of bed while attempting to make it to the potty.  It was then, while cleaning her up, that my husband noticed the tremendous blotches on her skin and said “This is not normal and we have to get her to the emergency room right away”.  We woke up our little boy, got them both in the truck, and drove as fast as we could the 21 miles to New Ulm.  We called the hospital on the way to say we were coming and prayed for the best.
I sat in the back with the children, comforting Abigale.  When she said to me, “Mommy I hurt so bad all over”, I assured her it was from the sickness and held her in my arms the best that I could while we were all buckled up.  Those were the last words I would ever hear from my beautiful little girl.  She died in my arms while we were driving.  When we arrived at the hospital they called a code blue and attempted for one hour to revive her.  Her heart never started and they were breathing for her.

She was pronounced dead at 7:20am Monday, February 19th.

Our hearts broke that day as our son, Abigale’s little brother, witnessed all this and we had to tell him that his playmate, his bedtime companion, had died and there was nothing Mommy and Daddy or the doctors could do to save her.
Two hours after we arrived home from saying goodbye to our first born, our son started to experience some of the same symptoms as his sister and I rushed him to the clinic.  They got us in immediately and started running tests.  While we were waiting for results, Samuel, our son, started to vomit.  I couldn’t believe this was happening all over again and was holding him on the floor of the doctor’s office when our pediatrician came in with Abby’s preliminary autopsy results, stating that she’d had overwhelming sepsis caused by streptococcus pneumonia, congenital asplenia (absence of a spleen) and hemorrhagic adrenal glands.
While my daughter’s death happened quite quickly and I wasn’t able to save her by rushing to the hospital, I was able to save my son of the same ramifications by hospitalizing him directly after her death.

My world changed in those life altering 3 days.

I now understand the importance of vaccines and how children’s lives depend on them.  I am asking all parents to make sure all kids are kept healthy and to vaccinate children.  If we do this, we will save lives.  It is our responsibility, parents and medical professionals, to protect our children.
The vaccine to prevent pneumococcal disease is now widely available in the US, but imagine if you are a parent in an under developed country, where vaccines are hard to come by, and calling a doctor or nurse for advice while your child’s disease rages is something you cannot do.  What happened to me in 2001 is still happening to thousands of parents every day in the poorest parts of the world where the pneumococcal vaccine is still not available.  Making this vaccine available has got to be one of the top priorities in global child health.   No child and no parent should have to endure the devastating effects of a disease that can be prevented with a vaccine that costs just $10.

Please support World Pneumonia Day on November 12.  Go to to find out what you can do to make a difference.  Help us vaccinate the world’s children and save their lives, too.

We would like to thank Shannon Duffy Peterson for sharing her personal story here on Shot of Prevention in an effort to fight pneumonia and save a child on World Pneumonia Day.
A video of Shannon telling her own story is available at

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