From One Mother to Another, For the Love of All Children
Nov 19, 2010

They say time heals all wounds.  While I believe that certainly can be true, I also recognize that often, scars remain.
Last week at this time I sat in a room full of people on World Pneumonia Day, listening to Shannon Duffy Peterson recall the horrible details of her daughter’s death from a vaccine preventable disease. 

Cokie Roberts interviews a special panel on World Pneumonia Day


I had already been familiar with the story and had even posted Shannon’s article here on Shot of Prevention.  However, when I saw the pain in her eyes and heard the trembling of her voice, I was overwhelmed with compassion.  Shannon attended the event with her fourth and youngest child, Amelia.  Despite Amelia’s radiant smile and sparkling eyes, I knew that even holding this bundle of joy, could never heal the permanent scars that Shannon felt after loosing her first child Abigale.    

Shannon shares her story in hopes that others will vaccinate their children against diseases like pneumonia.


What intrigued me about Shannon’s story was something she never even mentioned in her article.  She alluded to it on stage last week, but it was in reading a piece from her local news that revealed the disturbing twist on this terrible loss. 
Prior to her daughter falling ill, Shannon had inquired about immunizations with her pediatrician.  Unfortunately, he had advised against them.
In the quiet moments we spent together after her appearance at World Pneumonia Day, I couldn’t help but ask Shannon about her feelings regarding this doctor and the unfortunate advice she received.  “Have you ever felt angry?” I asked, considering that a simple immunization could have possibly prevented her daughter’s death.  She smiled tenderly, and explained – as only a mother who has grieved so deeply for her child can do – that she had, at one time, felt anger.  She then went on to say that she eventually came to accept the fact that she was ultimately responsible.   She should have pressed the issue.  She could have pursued the advice of another doctor.  However, in not taking any action to challenge her doctor, she felt responsible as a parent. 
Difficult as this must have been, Shannon remained composed while sharing these thoughts with me.  I admired her courage and recognized that she never once expressed any animosity towards her doctor.  In those fleeting moments we had together, we shared our concerns that new mothers can easily be overwhelmed with all the decisions they need to make on their child’s behalf.  Inexperience and lack of confidence, like that in which Shannon experienced,  can sometime result in decisions that actually put children at risk – even when that is the last thing a parent intends.   
Last Friday may have been one day we acknowledged as World Pneumonia Day, but stories like Abigale’s happen each and every day, all over the world.  Children lose their lives to vaccine preventable diseases and as long as this continue to happen, there will be people, like Shannon, dedicated to the mission of generating awareness.

Shannon with her youngest child Amelia

All week I have heard Shannon’s words echoing in my head.  As I read various articles that report on the flu, pertussis and various other vaccine preventable diseases, I constantly witness the extreme emotion from parents, advocates and medical professions.  Whether they are advocating for vaccines – or they are adamant about expressing their opposition – I realized that each person speaks with conviction that they are doing what is best to protect themselves, their children and sometimes even their fellow man.  In the end, we all must take responsibility for our actions and our decisions, just like Shannon has. 
You may choose to forego vaccinations, at the risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease, because you feel that will protect you from suffering with other physical side effects.   I choose to vaccinate myself and my family because I fear the harm that may result from the disease more than any potential side effect.  One may argue that the other view is flawed.  The debate will most likely never cease.  But in the crossfire, it’s important not to shoot the curious bystanders.
It is my intent to encourage a dialogue here on Shot of Prevention, and on our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page that does not persecute anyone for their thoughts and opinions.  I want to encourage those people who have questions regarding vaccines, or opinions to share, to come forward and be a part of the conversation.  We certainly can’t accomplish this with accusations and name calling, but rather understanding and compassion.  In the few short months that I have immersed myself in the issues surrounding immunizations, I have found one thing to ring true. 
Everyone…and I truly mean everyone…is acting out of love for the children.  From the father who believes his son suffered from an adverse effect of vaccination, to the father whose relies on herd immunity to protect  his son from vaccine preventable illness.  From the mother who takes the advice of her doctor, to the mother who is still undecided regarding the benefits of vaccination. 
One week later, I say that every day should be celebrated like it’s World Pneumonia Day.

The Pneumonia Fighters doing their part to generate awareness on the streets. Photographed by David Rotbard.


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5 responses to “From One Mother to Another, For the Love of All Children”

  1. Lisa R. says:

    How incredibly brave of Shannon to tell her story so that others can understand that it could happen to them too. Being a nice person or having a good family doesn’t protect you from pneumococcal bacteria.

  2. Chris says:

    I just reminded my younger son today to get a flu vaccine at the university’s health center. He thought since he just recovered from a cold he did not need it. I told him that his father spent over a week in bed with the Russian flu in college, and it was nothing like a cold.
    Thank you, Shannon.

  3. […] think of Shannon Peterson, who was advised not to vaccinate her children, only to lose her daughter Abigale to a vaccine […]

  4. […] had the pleasure of meeting Shannon in person last year when she spoke in honor of World Pneumonia Day.  At the time we met, she had traveled half way across the country to share her story.  A story […]

  5. Robert Schwartz says:

    Shannon: I appreciate what you’re doing. What was missing from the article I just read about you and your daughter was the name of the doctor whose advice led to this tragedy…and what has happened to him. If those matters are being pursued or have been addressed, great; if not, I hope you pursue a course of action that rids the trusting public of such quacks.

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