They all died as a result of pneumonia.
Most people are not all that surprised when they hear of an older individual dying of pneumonia, even if they are celebrities. In fact, it is often called “the old man’s friend” because the inflammation that occurs in the lungs as a condition of pneumonia can often shorten the suffering of those who are already close to death.
However, even in a well developed country like the United States, with all our advanced medical care, pneumonia is still one of the most common types of pneumococcal disease there is, infecting about 900,000 Americans each year and resulting in as many as 400,000 hospitalizations. But it’s not just old people who die of pneumonia. The truth is, pneumococcal disease doesn’t really discriminate. As many as 7% of people who contract pneumococcal pneumonia will die and this disease infects the young, the old, the healthy, the sick, the poor and the wealthy.
This is why vaccines are such an important preventive measure in the fight against pneumococcal disease.
Fortunately, there are vaccines to prevent certain types of pneumonia, and that’s a good thing considering there are more than 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria. While it is not possible to include all of the 90 different serotypes into one pneumococcal vaccine, the two vaccines that are available and approved for use in the U.S. protect against the serotypes that are most likely to cause invasive disease.
By invasive disease we mean the serious diseases that can occur when the bacteria invades parts of the body that are normally free of germs. See, besides pneumonia, pneumococcus can also cause other types of infections too. Some are less severe, like ear and sinus infections, while others are much more severe and invasive such as bacteremia, which occurs when there is an infection in the bloodstream, and meningitis, which occurs when the bacteria invades the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord. When invasive pneumococcal diseases occurs, it is usually very severe, requiring treatment in a hospital and often causing death.
As recent as 2013, there were an estimated 3,700 deaths in the U.S. from pneumococcal meningitis and bacteremia and 90% of these invasive cases occurred in adults. There are also about 2,000 cases of serious pneumococcal disease in children under the age of five in the U.S. each year.
Unfortunately, despite the availability of effective vaccines, an examination of the “State of the ImmUnion” reveals that we are not as prepared as we could be here in the U.S..
We know that most pneumococcal deaths in the U.S. are in adults, yet 67 million adults remain at risk because they are unvaccinated.
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.
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.
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. Read more…
It’s worth the poke to protect the world’s children.
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 http://www.worldpneumoniaday.org/ 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 http://pkids.org/im_videos_pneumo.php.
By Amy Pisani
USA Today’s Liz Szabo covered vaccines in two recent articles that you don’t want to miss. The December 23rd article covered the broad issue of celebrities who cross the line with their medical advice. This article, which spans the Life Section’s front page, dissects the actions of a variety of celebrities who have influenced the public with their messages. “Many doctors are troubled by stars who cross the line from sharing their stories to championing questionable or even dangerous medical advice” states Bradford Hesse of the National Cancer Institute. The article contains information about Every Child By Two (ECBT) and its Vaccinate Your Baby campaign spokesperson Amanda Peet, who encourages parents to attain their medical advice from doctors rather than celebrities. It also includes quotes from Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Martin Myers, representing the National Network for Immunization Information and myself. The entire article can be accessed here.
Today’s article, Vaccine Gaps Cause Outbreaks, highlights the dilemma faced by families who depend on the herd to protect their children and the dangers of gaps in immunization coverage, particularly in areas of the country with high vaccine exemption rates. In places like Ferry County, Washington 27% of the children have non-medical exemptions from school vaccine requirements. “These are the types of communities where imported diseases take hold and spread,” states Lance Rodewald of the CDC.
Julieanna Metcalf’s traumatic bout with Haemophilus influenzae type b during a 2008 outbreak in Minnesota, which also hospitalized three other children including one who did not survive, is the main focus of the article. Julieanna’s mother Brendalee Flint, who subsequently became an Every Child By Two Parent Advocate, learned that her child has a rare immune deficiency which renders her body unable to respond to vaccines only after she contracted Hib. “I just want everybody to know what can happen if you don’t vaccinate your baby…it’s not just your kid. When you get your child vaccinated, it helps to protect the other kids who don’t have the ability to protect themselves,” states Flint.
Also highlighted in the article is Gabrielle Romaguera, whose parents have also become outspoken advocates for vaccines since the death of Gabrielle due to whooping cough. The Romagueras reached out to ECBT several years ago after viewing a distressing episode of the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah had conducted her first in a series of interviews with actress Jenny McCarthy who urged parents to delay their children’s vaccines after alleging that the MMR vaccine had caused her son’s autism. Both Danielle and Brendalee traveled to Washington, D.C. to tell their stories to Congress and are featured on ECBT’s Vaccinate Your Baby website.
Also highlighted in the article is Shannon Duffy Peterson who is featured on PKIDs heartfelt public service announcements regarding the death of her six year old daughter from invasive pneumococcal disease. Vanderbilt’s Dr. William Schaffner states that “we all have to be protected so the virus can’t find these babies…we have to provide a cocoon of protection around them.” Read the entire article online here.