Part of young parents’ reticence to immunize their kids is due to the fact that they have lived in a golden age of medicine; they have never witnessed the ravages of measles, chickenpox or polio so the natural fear that they should have is largely absent. August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Elder pediatricians, including myself, have been asked to provide anecdotes about some of our patients who had vaccine preventable diseases before vaccines were available.
I vividly remember a nine year old boy with leukemia who developed chickenpox. He had blisters over his entire body and inside his mouth, esophagus and trachea. We could not start IVs because there were no veins visible. We treated him as we would treat a severe burn patient. There were no drugs to combat the virus. He died a miserable death from chickenpox pneumonia, severe dehydration and skin superinfection.
I also remember with great fondness our senior partner Dr. Hammond Pride, who, with Dr. Dick Willingham established Knoxville Pediatric Group, the predecessor of KPA. Ham had polio as a child but survived with only a minor limp. However, as he grew older, he developed a huge belly but he didn’t seem particularly fat anywhere else. His doctors finally came to the realization, when he was 53 years old, that Ham’s bladder had been partially paralyzed by the polio. It was as big as a large pumpkin! He had many urinary infections later in life along with increasing weakness from his childhood bout with polio. But polio never suppressed his indefatigable spirit or his good humor. He is missed.
It is truly heartbreaking to witness parents withholding these life saving vaccines.