A Once Healthy Girl Sentenced to a Life of Dependency
After Recieving a Flu Shot

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shutterstock_379214566-vaccinationVaccinations contain far more than just small amounts of the virus or bacterial strain they are intended to create immunity against. Some of these additional ingredients, including adjuvants (such as aluminum salts to encourage the body to develop a strong immune reaction) and preservatives (such as mercury containing thimerosal) may increase the potential for undesired reactions, particularly in children. Nine year old Marysue Grivna was one of these unlucky individuals; in November 2013, she received a flu shot which triggered the onset of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Instead of responding to the flu virus contained within the vaccine, her body began attacking her myelin sheath designed to protect nerves contained within the brain and spinal column. Within days, Marysue went from being a happy, active, bilingual child to a non-verbal girl who is confined to her wheelchair or bed. She eats mainly from a g-tube and, sadly, is not expected to make a significant recovery.

A Rare Disease Known as Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is a rare disorder which typically occurs after a severe bacterial or viral infection. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has also been known to cause ADEM, as has the seasonal flu shot. With this disorder, the body's immune system mistakenly begins to attack the myelin sheath, a protective electrical coating which surrounds the nerves within the brain and spinal cord. The attack triggers inflammation which can damage portions of the myelin sheath and brain tissue known as white matter, resulting in visual impairment, weakness and/or paralysis and varying degrees of loss of muscle coordination. Initial symptoms of onset begin within one to three weeks of an infection or vaccination and are typically flu like in nature; headache, nausea and/or vomiting, fatigue and/or fever may be present, but in severe cases, seizures and even coma may occur.

Treatment and Prognosis for ADEM Patients

Treatment for ADEM focuses on the use of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and minimize potential damage to brain tissue. When steroids fail to produce the desired result, immunoglobulin therapy administered intravenously or plasmapheresis should be utilized. Although most ADEM sufferers recover significantly within six months from the onset of symptoms, some continue to experience lifelong impairments. ADEM patients are also at an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life.

What Happened to Marysue?

Before receiving a seasonal flu shot in November of 2013, Marysue was a healthy, active nine year old who spoke two languages and loved to play outdoors.  Six days later, her mother discovered her in her bed, unable to speak or move. While being transported via ambulance to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida, Marysue experienced a seizure, more of which were to follow. During her three month hospital stay, Marysue spent time on life support and remained within the intensive care unit (ICU). Although she was not expected to survive, Marysue is still alive three years later; she remains, however, confined to a wheelchair or bed and must be fed primarily through a g-tube. While it is possible that she will partially recover a degree of physical function, the length of time which she has continued to exhibit severe symptoms makes a full recovery highly unlikely.

Was Marysue's Experience the Result of Medical Malpractice?

ADEM impacts eight out of every one million people each year, making the disease extremely rare. Although ADEM cases following vaccinations have been documented, they are even more rare than those following an acute bacterial or viral infection. As a result, many doctors are likely to be unaware of any associated risks. Such lack of awareness, however, does not ease the trauma experienced by Marysue and her family; it is quite possible that Marysue's parents may have chosen to avoid the seasonal flu shot had they been informed of the risks involved. Additionally, there is the possibility that one or more alterations in the treatment she received during her hospital stay could have helped her make a more significant recovery.

Vaccine Related Injuries and Deaths Continue to Mount

Although Marysue's reaction was extreme, the number of reported injuries and deaths related to vaccines have been steadily been on the rise. Unlike the majority of pharmaceutical medications and products in use today, manufacturers are immune to liability for vaccinations. As a result, vaccine related claims must be submitted through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). Between February and May of 2015 alone, 163 injury or death claims were filed within this system. During the same time period, 103 settlements were issued, 74 of which were related to the flu shot. Given these numbers, it seems clear that physician education regarding both the benefits and risks of vaccination are in order. Parents are often highly reliant on medial advice provided by pediatricians; when no vaccination related risks are mentioned, parents may be lulled into a false sense of security that these all too casually used pharmaceutical products provide only positive effects.

Additional Unreported Vaccination Related Cases Likely Exist

Even with the number of reported vaccination related injuries and deaths on the rise, some believe the actual number of victims is much higher. Many parents are unaware that vaccination poses a number of significant risks and therefore do not associate a previously non-existent condition with one or more recent vaccinations. Parents who suspect their child may have been damaged by a vaccination are encouraged to seek the advice of a qualified lawyer who can walk them through the claims process and increase the chances of financial recovery.

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