My Brother Couldn’t Get Measles Vaccination
The anti-vac advocates might want to consider what happened to him.
My brother, Guy Bates Ferry, 75, died in his recliner on February 19, 2019. He was the “one in a 1000” who developed measles-induced encephalitis. The year was 1946. Guy was two, 17 years before the measles vaccine became available. And now many anti-vac people want the era to return.
The night the encephalitis damaged Guy’s brain, I heard my parents talking in their daytime voices, not whispering, like they did when my brother and I were supposed to be asleep. Pieces of their conversation have stayed with me, words like “fever” and “hot” and “cold water.” I heard Guy crying, my parents trying to soothe him, water running, then silence.
Years later, I heard part of the story from my mother. She said Guy was sick with the measles, at the time, a common childhood disease. They weren’t worried, even though his fever seemed high, until the fever spiked and his body started to vibrate. They called the family doctor who said, “Put cold washcloths on him, give him two aspirins, put him to bed, and call in the morning.”
In the 1940s, the potential deadly effects of this childhood disease were not widely known. Today, according to information published by the Encephalitis Society, one in 10 who contacts measles will develop an ear infection; one in 20 will develop pneumonia; and one in 1000 will develop encephalitis. Of that 1000, 15% will die, and 25% will have permanent neurological damage.
My brother was one of the 25%.
Shortly after he recovered, the first signs of the damage to his brain became evident when his speech regressed to a few slurred words. This speech defect stayed with him, despite our parents efforts to correct it with intensive speech therapy.
As a young child, Guy was ridiculed by neighborhood kids, which became obvious in his clumsy attempts to make friends. Despite the rejection he experienced, I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone who hurt him, as if he was oblivious to people who treated him with disdain.
I was the sister who wanted him to act like the other kids in the neighborhood. Instead of playing with boys his age, he hung around the preschoolers and talked baby talk so they would play with him. He embarrassed me when he played on the kiddie swing set with the little kids.
When I was 16, my mother told me the rest of the story. She said we had measles at the same time. I recovered from pneumonia; Guy did not recover from the encephalitis. She had waited to tell me until she and my father got the absolute final word from a doctor in Chicago that the brain damage could not be reversed. We never discussed it again. Perhaps because this was a time when families held tight the disabilities of their children. If a child was different, it wasn’t anyone’s business. I don’t believe there was shame involved, just an overwhelming sadness for my parents.
School became problematic. In the 50s, there were no special education classes in Fort Wayne Ind. Year after year he was thrown in the classroom with everyone else. Because he couldn’t keep up, he let out his frustration in angry outbursts, sometimes in the classroom, and sometimes in the home. These behavior issues led to a four-year commitment to Richmond State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Richmond Ind.
Today, measles, which officials declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, has resurfaced, particularly in communities where parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. This anti-vac attitude has many frightening consequences as it is one of the world’s most contagious diseases. Measles can be transmitted four days before any obvious symptoms appear, and four more days after the rash first becomes noticeable. Microscopic droplets from an infected person can live up to two hours in the air, and up to four hours on a surface in a room where an infected person has coughed or sneezed. As the New York Times recently reported, the World Health Organization has identified “Vaccination hesitancy” as one of this year’s 10 notable threats to global health.
Undeterred by statistical evidence that children, like my brother Guy, who contact measles are at risk, some families continue to decline the MMR-the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. Their reasons include potential side effects, the cost, moral or religious objections, and the completely debunked theory that MMR can cause autism. This emotionally charged issue puts parent’s rights to self-determination and personal autonomy in opposition to the best interests of young children who could be exposed to this disease.
If the statistic that one in 1000 will experience measles-induced encephalitis sounds like a remote possibility, it is, until it happens to your family. The damage to my brother’s brain was severe, immediate, and irreversible.
When Guy returned home from the psychiatric hospital, a combination of therapy and medication allowed him to live independently. He needed help, which Park Center Mental Health Services in Fort Wayne provided. They managed his finances, paid his bills, and organized weekly appointments with a Case Manager and a therapist.
Guy’s disregard for cleanliness and personal hygiene kept some people away. Yet, due to his friendly demeanor, he had many friends in the senior complex where he lived. As long as he had coffee, plenty of food, and his cigarettes, he was content. If his apartment was filthy, no problem.
After my parents passed, I spoke to him every morning. He called from his recliner where he watched westerns on his 48-inch TV. Our conversations were brief. We talked about the weather. He ended every conversation with “Talk to you tomorrow. Right?”
I wonder: what will it take to silence the anti-vaccination people, a damaged brain like my brother, or a death?