In 1985, my twin sister and I were 7 years old. My older brother, who was 9, had come down with chicken pox. Naturally, my sister and I got it, too. We spent a week at home watching cartoons and taking baking soda baths, and, in a short time, were ready to go back to school.
One evening, a day or two after returning to school, my sister and I were playing. Abruptly and without warning, my sister slumped over on the couch. She could not lift her head, she could not walk, and her speech was slurred. My mother whisked her off to the hospital. She had varicella-related encephalitis, a potentially life-threatening swelling of the brain caused by the chicken pox virus. At 7 years old, I didn’t understand what encephalitis was; I just knew that my sister, my twin, my best friend was very, very sick.
Before the introduction of the chicken pox vaccine in 1995, about 4 million people, mostly children, got the disease every year in the United States; and around 100-150 people died from it. My twin sister was almost one of them. She was extremely fortunate to make a full recovery. Some people who develop encephalitis suffer permanent brain damage, others do not survive.
Now, 30 years later, I am the mother of a 7 year old child; a son who loves Legos and video games, and wants to be a scientist when he grows up. I also have a daughter who will be 2 in the spring. I don’t know yet what she’ll want to be when she grows up, but I want to give her every possible opportunity to find out. This is why I choose to vaccinate my children.
I’m not just a mother, I am also a registered nurse; and it has been my pleasure and privilege to care for the children of Central Ohio for nearly 10 years. I have laughed with my patients, and cried with them; I have held their hands, and even sung to them (badly). Though my job is often challenging, I do my best every day to be caring, compassionate, and above all, safe.
Some of the children with whom I come into contact suffer from diseases, such as cancer, which severely weaken their immune systems. This vulnerability means that not only can they not receive some vaccines, like the chicken pox and measles vaccines, but that they are at significantly greater risk of complications if they contract these diseases. That is why I choose to vaccinate myself: to decrease the possibility that I might become infected and pass along one of these diseases to my patients.
In recent years, I have witnessed a growing mistrust of vaccines. As a mother, I understand the power of fear; the fear that I will somehow harm my children by injecting them with an unknown substance. But as a nurse, I have read the research and learned about both the risks of the vaccines and the diseases they prevent: chicken pox, measles, mumps, polio, and others. These are not benign diseases. These are not childhood rites of passage. These are diseases that have the potential to cause permanent deafness, pneumonia, paralysis, encephalitis, and death.
The chicken pox vaccine was not available when my twin sister contracted encephalitis. But, fortunately, this vaccine and many others are available to our children. As a mother, I would never be able to forgive myself if I allowed my kids to suffer lifelong consequences, or, heaven-forbid die, from a disease that I could have prevented. That is why I vaccinate my children: to keep them safe. As a nurse, I would never be able to forgive myself if I passed a preventable disease along to a child who was entrusted to my care. That is why I vaccinate myself: to keep your children safe.
It is my sincere hope, as both a mother and a nurse that no child ever suffers or dies from a preventable disease. That is why I choose vaccination.
Courtney Porter is a registered nurse who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in nursing, both from The Ohio State University. She has had the pleasure of working in the Emergency Department, Pediatric Surgery Clinic, and Off-Site Urgent Care network in her 10 years at Nationwide Children’s.
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