Ottawa Citizen

Before vaccines, diseases were deadly

- Do you have a family story about the effect of illnesses such as measles or scarlet fever? Write to letters@ ottawaciti­zen.com.

Preventabl­e diseases once killed families

People are putting their children at risk by failing to have them vaccinated. I know what it’s like to have scarlet fever and red measles, both of which are killers, because I had them at the age of five.

For scarlet fever I was in an isolation hospital for four weeks, not permitted to sit up for a week or to get out of bed for the remaining three. No visitors were permitted at all, and when my seven-month old-sister caught it, even my mother couldn’t visit to nurse her. Penicillin was the saviour for scarlet fever. Then I got red measles. I remember lying in a darkened room struggling to breathe. My mother told me she could hear my breathing throughout the house. Many other children died.

Then, when I was about 12, the polio epidemic hit. I was lucky, but some of my classmates died and others spent months or even years in an iron lung. School was cancelled, no groups were permitted to meet, movie theatres closed. It was very scary. Jonas Salk and his associates produced a vaccine, and we all lined up to get the miracle vaccine. Today we rarely hear of polio.

Before vaccines, parents talked about their first and second families, because when there was a whooping cough or diphtheria epidemic all of their children died and they were only left with memories of their “first” family.

As a child I was immunized against smallpox, as was a large part of the world, and that deadly disease has largely disappeare­d because of the size of the vaccinated population. Today we have many vaccines and they do work and are safe. It is foolish to put your children in danger from a disease that can kill or create severe disabiliti­es. It is time to make key vaccinatio­ns mandatory, with an exception only for a serious medical reason, for all children going to school or daycare. Marianne Wilkinson, councillor, Kanata North

Childhood disease led to stroke in children Re: Pro-vaccine for a reason, Feb. 11

Like letter-writer Julia Wykes, I believe there is not much sense arguing with people who have made up their minds and won’t listen to arguments that go against their beliefs. However, I would like to relate an experience I had with a child who had had chickenpox in kindergart­en.

I was the Grade 1/2 teacher in a rural school in Manitoba. One day, in spring, two of my students were absent. I asked one little boy who lived near them if he knew why they were away, as I hadn’t heard from their parents. He said one of the little girls got sick and the other was sad that her friend was sick so didn’t come to school either. I couldn’t reach either parent, so I sent the girls’ missed work home for them with the boy.

The next morning, the sick child’s father knocked on the door of my classroom. I stepped out into the hall to speak with him. His daughter had suffered a stroke. At first the doctors were not sure what was wrong with her, but the neurologis­t had had a similar incident with a 12-year old boy recently and realized what was wrong. When the girl had had chickenpox, it had caused scarring not only on the outside of her body, but also inside, on a vein in her brain. The scarring caused the stroke. I was in tears and had to compose myself before going back inside to teach my class. We threw aside our regular work and made heartshape­d get-well messages for the little girl.

After school, I drove home, let my dogs out, went out to get flowers, a gift and card and went straight up to the hospital. This beautiful child, whom I had taught for two years, was lying in a hospital bed in a diaper, unable to use one side of her body.

When her mother came in to the school several weeks later, I asked how her daughter was doing. She broke down crying and said, “She is doing a little better each day. Just don’t ask me how I am doing.” It is a horrible thing for a mother to see her child so ill. She was emotionall­y drained.

I have children of my own. Vaccinatio­ns for chickenpox were not available when they were young. It was thought of as just a common childhood illness. After seeing my student suffer through years of therapy to regain use of her limbs and relearn how to talk and read, I hope no other child has to suffer from a complicati­on of a disease that can now be prevented.

Please parents, trust your physicians and vaccinate your children. Kathleen Saunders, Ottawa

Chickenpox can kill Re: So, your parents don’t want you to get shots?

I was a newly minted 19-year-old kindergart­en teacher in 1959, several years before vaccinatio­ns became available. A new student arrived one day, and as I welcomed him into our class, I wondered what the blisterlik­e things were on his face but dismissed them as just part of the way he looked. Two days later he was home with chickenpox. Two weeks later half of my class were out with the chickenpox. One little boy gave it to his ninemonth-old baby brother, who died from it. The father was so distraught that he took his own life. Now, ask me how I feel about children getting vaccinatio­ns! Karen Cockwell, Renfrew

A grandparen­t’s view

As a grandparen­t, I most heartily agree with columnist Madeline Ashby concerning the vaccinatio­n debate. As a child, I had whooping cough, mumps, chickenpox, and measles three times (or so the doctors said). And as I grew more aware, I, like so many others, feared polio. I had friends who had polio, and it, above all else, was the great fear of parents and children alike. So when vaccines came along for each of these diseases, we made sure that our children got them as soon as possible.

I find it ironic that the parents today who refuse to have their children vaccinated were themselves the fortunate recipients of vaccinatio­ns and never had to face the difficult and often painful effects of these diseases. It was no fun, believe me.

I have noticed that there seems to be a resurgence of some of these diseases in recent years, not just measles, but even things like polio. I hope nobody has to face any of these diseases in their children again. But if your child falls victim to any preventabl­e disease such as measles or polio, remember it was your decision. Gordon Forbes, Ottawa

 ??  BRUNO SCHLUMBERG­ER/THE OTTAWA CITIZEN FILES ?? After the 1950s success of the Salk vaccine, polio was virtually eliminated in Canada.
 BRUNO SCHLUMBERG­ER/THE OTTAWA CITIZEN FILES After the 1950s success of the Salk vaccine, polio was virtually eliminated in Canada.

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