Testimony Of Tonya and Gerald Nelson Indianapolis, Indiana

Before The Government Reform Committee
Hearing of August 3, 1999

Vaccines: Finding the Balance Between Public Safety and Personal Choice

2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C.


Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am grateful to be here today to share with you our story regarding vaccines. I am the mother of four children. Abigail was my third. Abigail was born 11:27 p.m.on March 22, 1994. She was a very healthy baby. We stayed two days in the hospital. Prior to our release from the hospital, we was given the Hepatitis B vaccine. I asked questions about the injection and was given a booklet to read that stated to expect no side effects except soreness in the area of injection.

We came home after receiving the vaccine. She was very cranky her cry was very disturbing more of a scream than crying. She began to spit up a lot. I called the doctor and was told to give her some water between feedings and to call back in a week. I did as the doctor suggested. But I began to get scared because her stool became loose and greenish yellow so I called back in a week and was told that was normal and to keep an eye on her and call if I needed to.

The second week was worse her cry was just as bad and stools still loose. She became cold to touch and she shivered a lot. I called the doctor again she told me to put her infant hat on her and check temperature four times a day and to call back the next week. I did this. Her temperature stayed at 96 degrees. Then her third week she began to turn purple in her hands and feet and around her lips. I called the doctor and was told to watch her breathing and they would see the baby next week for her one-month check up and to keep her wrapped in blankets tightly.

I was becoming scared I asked them to get her in before her check up and was told they had no appointments. I hung up from that call and called my son's old doctor. She told me that she could not help without seeing the child and since Abby was on Medicaid and she was not a Medicaid provider, she was restricted from seeing Abby. I offered to pay cash, but she said she could not take money from a Medicaid patient.

At this point, Abby is still crying and vomiting and having loose stools and very cold. The night before she died she screamed for six hours straight plus she had a lot of bowel movements. She finally fell asleep around 11:30 pm.

I woke up to find her dead at 6 am. I placed my 911 call and started CPR the fireman and paramedics showed up. They pronounced her deadly shortly after they arrived.

That afternoon we were picking out her coffin instead of a crib. We had to choose an outfit to bury her in instead of picking one out to have her one-month pictures taken. The coroner said it would be two weeks before a cause of death could be determined. The coroner and police treated me like I had committed a crime, taking pictures of her old bottles and formula. They questioned me over and over. It was not the kind of situation a mother should be in when her child has just died.

About two months later, we received a telephone call from a Dr. Thomas Gill, of the Marion County Coroner's Office. He told us the cause of death was the Hepatitis B virus - which she could only have gotten form the vaccine. He told me that he would get the death certificate out to me very soon.

Sixteen weeks later, we received the death certificate in the mail and the cause of death was "natural causes" otherwise known as "SIDS" (Sudden Infant Death Sudden). I was shocked to say the least. I called the Coroner's Office and spoke to Dr. Manders, the Coroner of Marion County and was told that Dr. Gill had been asked to resign.

Dr. Manders stated that he had signed the death certificate. I asked how he could sign the death certificate if he did not perform the autopsy. He told me that he had done so since Dr. Gill was no longer there. We have not been able to determine how he came to the cause of death since he did not perform the autopsy and that Dr. Gill told us something very very different. He told me that if I had questions, to call a Dr. Pless, a pathologist at Indiana University. I did call and made an appointment to speak to Dr. Pless. He was a man with out compassion. The most cold-hearted I have ever met. He told me to stop trying to place the blame of my child's death on someone and go on with my life. He also stated that if the vaccine did kill my daughter that it was saving more live than it was taking.

I contacted a lawyer and he said to get all my information together and call him back. I contacted the Infectious Disease center at Riley Children's Hospital and spoke to a Registered Nurse. She was very helpful she told me that the vaccine has been known to take infants lives and also to make them very sick. She could not help me other than that she was scared she would loose her job. She also told me that the infant does not develop it's own immune system until it is 3-4 months of age. I confirmed this with other doctors who said they are very uncomfortable giving the injections at such an early age.

I then called my son's old doctor again and she told me she could not help me because malpractice insurance is too expensive as it is. I tried to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the vaccine company. I left messages that were never returned.

To retain my own emotional well-being, and to care for my two older children, I had to take a break from this, thinking that I had plenty of time to pursue this with the Government. Our family was still grieving the loss of Gerald's parents, then my Abby died, a not too much later a nephew died. I had to return to work because we were already behind the eight ball financially, and having to pay for a funeral and headstone for Abby only made that worse.

I was not the only member of the family who needed to heal from this trauma. My husband, Gerald will share with you his experiences shortly. My older children needed counseling that we could not afford and the school told us that she was young enough that she would soon forget. To compound all of this, my second child went blind in his right eye and I was trying to get disability for him to help with medical bills. That request was declined. I can not say that the state was a big help at all.

Finally, I was able to call the attorney back and was told that I was too late. He said I only had two years to get compensated for our loss unless she had lived. Then I would have had seven years.

We have had a lot of bills and misfortune due to this one vaccine. I had lost the most important thing in my life and nobody cared. They were too busy or too afraid of loosing their jobs or paying too much malpractice insurance. I also know that my child was not a priority at getting an appointment with the doctor because she was on Medicaid. The doctors do not get enough compensation to encourage them to make Medicaid patients a priority.

Since we were in such financial distress already, I tried to get state funding for her funeral and was told it would take a few weeks to get an approval for this and that I would have to fill out papers. I didn't feel that I could hold off for weeks to bury my child while paperwork was being filled out and reviewed.

I gave up hope until I contacted Beth Clay on the Committee staff. This has been like an open wound that has been trying to heal for five years, but has not. I feel like coming and telling our story will be worth it if I can help save just one child's life. I hope that through my own experience, I will be able to help other parents also.

Of course none of this will make up for the loss we encountered five years ago. By testifying today, my husband and I may finally be able to bring closure to our grieving.

So far, we have been so busy just trying to survive that we have not done so. My Abby would be in school now, learning to read and write, and sing songs. Instead, we have a baby book that never got filled out.

Gerald Tonya and I are like many other ordinary Americans - a hard working struggling to survive. Tonya came to our marriage with two beautiful children - Sabrina and Kegan. Abby was born beautiful and healthy - she was my first child. I was the proudest of Papa's. This tragedy compounded with other recent family losses really tore me apart emotionally. I ended up loosing my job. We have struggled to recover from this tragedy and to further understand how it is appropriate for babies whose immune systems are not fully developed are being vaccinated. We also want to see more information be provided to parents prior to vaccination and that they be informed that there are medical and religious exemptions. Physicians also have to be educated about these exemptions and be comfortable giving them. We were told that the worst that could happen is that our little Abby might have a sore arm - that was certainly not accurate information. By coming today, we hope that the Government will move forward with more research in the safety of vaccines in infants and in the combination of vaccines. We also want medical freedom to be a consideration in finding the balance between public health and each individual's health and safety. I would also add that the Committee staff spoke with the Coroner's office yesterday and that Abby's toxicology report showed that she had Hepatitis B.

Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee for this opportunity to testify.

Pennsylvania Parents for Vaccine Awareness
P.O. Box 173
Mill Village, Pa.  16427
Email: ppva@velocity.net
Web Page: http://www.erie.net/~noshotz
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