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Baby Suffers Stroke After Chickenpox, Reinforcing Importance of Vaccinating

In another tragic case reinforcing the importance of vaccination, doctors determined that an 11-month-old child suffered a stroke after a mild chickenpox infection. The child was not immunized and had contracted the disease from his older siblings approximately 2 to 3 months prior, reports the Journal of Pediatrics in their August publication focusing on Varicella-Associated Stroke.

The child, whose mother noticed the right side of his body appeared weak after a routine nap, was rushed to see medical professionals, where they concluded he had suffered a left middle cerebral artery stroke caused by varicella, the virus responsible for the once-common childhood disease.

As someone whose child also suffered a stroke sometime just before birth, I am heartbroken for the family. While many young stroke survivors can and do make incredible strides, those strides do not come without obstacles and, in many cases, intense therapy, endless doctor visits, and mild to severe physical and cognitive disabilities. What’s worse is that while many pediatric strokes are either a result of genetic abnormalities or have unknown causes, this one has a definitive cause, and it was PREVENTABLE.

People, please: VACCINATE YOUR KIDS.

For many who had chickenpox as children themselves, as I did, it’s easy to think of the disease as too common or harmless to require vaccination. I mean, how many people can you remember who suffered more than an ugly rash for a couple of weeks? The reality, however, is that chickenpox carries with it a whole host of serious side effects, many of which we have either forgotten since the vaccine became routine or which we were lucky enough not to experience as kids.

According to the Mayo Clinic, in addition to stroke, chickenpox also carries with it the risk of:

  • Bacterial infections of the skin, soft tissues, bones, joints or bloodstream (sepsis)
  • Dehydration
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Reye’s syndrome for people who take aspirin during chickenpox

And while today chickenpox is rare, resulting in fewer than 200,000 US cases per year, it’s still incredibly dangerous — even deadly in some instances.

I’ll admit to questioning the need for the chickenpox vaccine when my oldest son was born. Both my husband and I had chickenpox when we were little, and we turned out OK, right? But after I listened to my child’s pediatrician and did a little digging of my own — not to mention received a good talking-to from my grandmother, who had herself survived polio as a young woman and lost the baby with which she was pregnant before access to the vaccine was widespread — I realized that chickenpox is not the innocuous childhood rite of passage many recall it being. It is as dangerous and potentially deadly as any other highly communicable, preventable disease.

So I followed the doctor’s recommendation to vaccinate all my kids against chickenpox. And even though I know vaccines are not 100 percent effective, sometimes require booster shots, and carry their own dangers, the risk-benefit analysis is undeniable: vaccines do far more good than harm and serve to prevent the spread of what could otherwise overrun and dismantle not just a family, but the population as a whole.

This 11-month-old baby has a lifetime of challenges ahead of him. No one knows this better than I, or more aptly, than my own young stroke survivor, who takes his resulting cerebral palsy and speech and language issues to task every single day with heart and grit. I hope and pray his family has access to and can provide him with as many early intervention services as possible and that he, too, demonstrates the amazing resilience I’ve seen in so many other pediatric stroke survivors.

And I pray his story — this tragic and heartbreaking incident — can have the tiniest of positive outcomes by inspiring a parent who may otherwise have considered not vaccinating their children to rethink their decision.

For their own children’s well-being and for that of others with whom they come in contact.