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A young man was recently awarded compensation in the United States Court of Federal Claims Vaccine Court, for injuries he sustained after being administered the hepatitis A and varicella vaccinations in 2009. After five long years of litigation, Health and Human Services (HHS), the Respondent in all vaccine injury cases, conceded that the varicella vaccination did in fact cause RD’s vaccine injury, transverse myelitis, which has left him a tetraplegic.
In November 2014, HHS conceded that the vaccination caused RD’s injuries. Even with this concession, his case continued for another year in the damages phase, during which time the parties continued to negotiate the amount of damages that RD would receive for his injuries. Although he was compensated for his suffering and injuries, the monetary award will never compensate for the lifelong effects this young man is suffering from his vaccine injury.
Five Long Years
RD was only 13 when his life changed forever. At a routine well-child visit in 2009, the doctor informed RD’s parents that he was due to receive the hepatitis A and varicella vaccinations. His parents complied with the doctor’s order and RD received the vaccinations.
RD’s mother explained that, at that time in RD’s state, only one dose of varicella vaccine was required and RD had already received one dose of that vaccine. This second dose that was administered to RD at this well visit was determined to be the cause of RD’s horrific injuries, and it was not even required for him, which his family didn’t realize until it was too late.
About 14 days later, RD began to experience excruciating pain shooting through his body along with tingling, numbness and paralysis of his limbs. After extensive testing and many invasive procedures, RD was diagnosed with transverse myelitis.
RD’s parents filed a case in Vaccine Court, which took over five years to settle. RD and his family faced arduous heartbreak along the way. In the ruling, a representative from the United States Department of Justice agreed that “a preponderance of the evidence establishes that petitioner’s transverse myelitis was caused-in-fact by the administration of his August 12, 2009 varicella vaccine.” 
RD’s lawyer, Patricia Finn, stated that:
“The injuries that RD suffered from this vaccine are severe and lifelong. Even though he has received a significant award as far as the awards in the Vaccine Court go, no amount of money will ever compensate him for what he has lost.
But RD is an amazing young man who has not let this injury stop him in any way. He has graduated high school with his class, attends a Tier 1 college, and has great aspirations that I know he will achieve despite the challenges he faces because of his injuries.”
RD’s Immune System Attacked His Spine
Transverse myelitis is a rare, immune-mediated syndrome in which the spinal cord becomes inflamed. At the onset of transverse myelitis, immune cells mistakenly invade the body, specifically attacking the spinal cord, often damaging the protective myelin coating. 
The syndrome was extremely rare until the 1920s, when hundreds of cases were diagnosed following administration of rabies and smallpox vaccines. Later research revealed that transverse myelitis is a post-infectious disorder.
According to Mayo Clinic, vaccines are a primary cause of transverse myelitis, and doctors are trained to ask patients who are seeking treatment if they have recently been vaccinated. Hepatitis B vaccines, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines, and diphtheria-tetanus (Tdap) vaccines have been implicated in causing cases of transverse myelitis. 
The onset of symptoms is commonly sudden and severe. Many people who develop transverse myelitis initially notice frightening symptoms, including pain, often in their neck or back, which is what happened to RD.
They may also experience shooting sensations radiating through their arms, legs, and abdomen; abnormal sensations, including numbness, burning, coldness, tingling, tightness of the skin, and over sensitivity to touch and temperature; weakness in arms and legs; stumbling; paralysis; bladder and bowel problems, including incontinence and constipation.
RD experienced many of these symptoms as his immune system attacked his own body.
RD Remembers the Day His Life Changed Forever
With striking confidence and a notable tinge of sadness in his voice, RD gave us his recollection of the last days of his normal life:
“The doctor just said that we needed the chicken pox and the hepatitis A vaccine and we just assumed the doctor knew what he was talking about. My sister received the same vaccines and, thank God, she’s fine.
I got the vaccine on August 12, 2009, and then I was fine for the next two weeks. I complained of a little bit of back pain towards August 29, but we thought it was just muscle soreness from riding my bike.
Then, on August 29, I woke up and I was in excruciating neck pain. I went to go take a shower and I thought I was going to pass out in the shower; how much my neck hurt.
I went in the kitchen and told my mom and dad that I was in excruciating neck pain. My mom rubbed my neck. I ate a little breakfast and then I threw up and I felt better after that.
After that, about five minutes later, I tried to lift my arm and I felt the electricity in my arm leave and I couldn’t move it up. I instantly had a feeling of terror and it is still the most horrifying feeling I know.
I kept telling myself that maybe it fell asleep and that it was going to wake up. As the day went on, it didn’t. I began to feel more numbness and tingling. I started to fall off the sofa and my dad had to carry me to my room. My parents then rushed me to the hospital.
At the hospital they intubated me. They weren’t sure what I had so they sent me to the local regional hospital. I was transferred to a local trauma unit because they didn’t know what was wrong with me.
I wasn’t aware of this because I was intubated and knocked out, but they gave me an MRI and a spinal tap. The next day, on August 30, I was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis. I was completely paralyzed from the neck down.
It hit my brain a little bit. It hit the vertebrae C1, C2, C3, C4 and a little bit of C5.”
The Long Journey Begins
RD shared the details of the first traumatic weeks when he learned to live with a devastating vaccine injury.
“So, I don’t remember any of this, but this was told to me by my parents and my family. During the next week, they got in touch with Johns Hopkins Medical Center where there was a specialist. Myelitis is like an autoimmune disorder. My immune system thought my nerves were bad, so it attacked them.
They gave me one treatment called IVIG that confused my immune system and it stopped attacking my spine. They also gave me a chemotherapy treatment.
They also gave me seven treatments called plasmapheresis. Basically, I had a tube in my upper right thigh that were attached to a machine. Every few days, it pulled the old plasma out of my blood and put new plasma in to me. Antibodies are in the plasma, so this was done to remove the antibodies that were attacking my spine.
Since I was numb, I couldn’t feel this; however, I do recall that, for some reason, as I had more treatments whenever the machine was on, I felt a pain where the tubes were.
When they do spinal taps, they also pull out spinal fluid. They had that fluid, so once I was stabilized, the doctors used that to determine what caused the myelitis.
The doctors asked what vaccines I had. The doctor of Columbia Medical Center in New York City found the varicella virus in my spinal fluid.
The first day I got sick, they also did another test, NMO, neuromyelitis optica, to see if my body could produce the antibody naturally that could cause myelitis. The first test came back negative, that my body was not able to produce the antibody.
Over the course of two years, I had two more of those tests, to produce medically sound results. Those tests all came back negative.”
So, then what happened, on September 25, about a month later, I was then transferred to rehabilitation in New York City. I spent six months there in inpatient rehabilitation.”
Contemplating how his life changed so suddenly, unexpectedly, and tragically, RD said:
“It was really terrible. I was lucky and I feel I’m regaining something, but it is a horrible experience to go from a normal life to not being able to use your limbs anymore.
I lost my independence.”
The Debilitating Effects Of Transverse Myelitis
Sadly, RD will suffer symptoms of his vaccine injury for the rest of his life. Transverse myelitis is a disease with lifelong effects which can include pain; stiffness; painful muscle spasms; partial or total paralysis of arms, legs, or both; sexual dysfunction; and very commonly, depression and anxiety, due to the stress of living with chronic pain.
According to the Transverse Myelitis Association, a nonprofit foundation offering support to individuals with rare, immune-neurological disorders, “there are very few clinical centers with physicians who specialize in transverse myelitis.” RD and his family travel four hours twice a year to receive treatment at a facility that specializes in this condition.
A Mother’s Heartbreak
You can imagine the agony any parent would feel as they helplessly watch their healthy, able-bodied child become paralyzed and endure many painful medical procedures. On that fateful day, the lives of RD’s family members changed forever, too.
RD’s mother shared:
“He was a very independent young man, little boy, and teenager, very responsible, and then he had to become dependent on every little thing in his life, totally dependent on his mother and father and his sister for everything.
You make the most of it but it does take everything out of you in life. Even though you move, on it’s always lingering in my mind.
It’s very hard to watch because he doesn’t know what he is missing. He hasn’t experienced what normal teenagers do. I know what he is missing, but he doesn’t.
It’s very hard for a parent to watch their child not experience normal things that teenagers experience. We have sheltered his life a lot because he doesn’t experience independence. He doesn’t really enjoy going out with normal people because he can’t just go to the bathroom by himself and he can’t just go to a food establishment and order food.
His summer consists of catching up on therapy. We do take him to the spinal center for about four hours of therapy a day. Now that he is older, most children are going on to internships and moving on with life, and he is going to catch up on therapy. It’s just a reminder.
I do speak to a lot of the parents whose children have myelitis, many of which are caused by vaccines.
My husband takes vacation time because the spinal center is four hours from our house. It’s just what you do on your ‘free’ vacation time. We know things could be worse but it’s still hard to watch what we have to watch because you don’t want to see your child suffer.
It does affect the siblings. My daughter has been affected by this. She does want to become a physical therapist. She’s been at the rehabilitation center for the past seven years when we go.
As a child, you could sweep it under the carpet. She has times when she cries about it. All of her friends’ siblings are doing things, driving or going away to college, and it’s a different lifestyle than for her brother. She tries to not let it consume her but it hurts her.
I wish I could go back and change everything.”
RD’s Life Today
RD reflected on the last seven years of living with a vaccine injury:
“All of the tragedy that initially happened, over all these years, I try to focus on the good things. I like to talk about the positive things. I don’t make it sound as negative as it actually was. I try to live positively now.”
It’s difficult to have a social life outside of school. Right now I commute to college. I don’t live there. I have a lot of friends at school but I don’t do anything outside of class. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized what I missed out on.
At night, I have to wear Night Rangers and a hand brace to stretch my legs and my hand. My dad has to come in every night and help me untangle my sheets. The braces get caught in the sheets. I never sleep through the night. I have to inconvenience my dad to help me. He has to get up at six in the morning and he gets home at twelve at night because he has to work overtime.
Whenever we have to leave the house, it has to be planned because we have the wheelchair. Life can’t be spontaneous.”
RD’s Vaccine Court Battle
In the United States, the government has created an underutilized database, known as the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), to keep track of reactions to vaccinations.
Due to rising litigation against vaccine manufacturers in the 1970s and 1980s, and the large awards the vaccine manufacturers were having to pay to those who were injured by vaccines, many vaccine manufacturers began to leave the vaccine market. In response to this situation, in 1986, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) was passed. This legislation shielded the vaccine manufacturers from liability that resulted from administration of a vaccination. One of the intents of this program was to compensate victims of vaccine injury fairly, quickly and efficiently. 
This program has awarded approximately $3.4 billion to individuals and families who have suffered vaccine injury and death. These awards are funded by taxes on vaccines. 
It should be noted that, after the Vaccine Act was passed in 1986, shielding the vaccine manufacturers from liability, the CDC modified the childhood immunization schedule, greatly increasing the number of vaccines American children receive. In 1983, the CDC recommended 11 doses of 4 vaccines by the time a child was 16. Today the CDC recommends that a child receive 49 doses of 14 vaccines by the age of six. [6, 7]
RD explained his experience with the process of requesting compensation through vaccine court:
“I find that a lot of people don’t know that the government has a program to compensate people with vaccine injuries. Not many people know that and they are shocked and surprised when they find out.
I think that getting more information out about vaccine court is important. The fund is actually funded by taxpayers; $.75 of each vaccine goes into the fund.
Quite honestly, too, the vaccine court is all set up and they really need to do a much better job of properly compensating and treating the people who go through the vaccine compensation process. If they mandate the vaccine, they should really do a better job of treating people fairly. The maximum amount a family is entitled to for pain and suffering is $250,000.
There are many things that are just very backwards, that just don’t make sense, that you can’t believe are actually the law. You can’t fight anything and there is no jury because it is all laid out by a law.”
RD’s experience in vaccine court can only be described as a tragedy. RD was a teenager going through this process as a Petitioner, hoping for an award that would enable him to have a walker, therapy appointments, and some compensation for the lost wages and pain he would face for the rest of his life. He watched helplessly as his requests were met with constant opposition from the lawyer who was representing HHS.
“The whole process was twisted; at first, the things the opposing lawyer and her team would do were screwed up, but not too bad. For example, there was one thing in the life care plan,that every five years, I would get two new walkers so I could keep one in the house and one in the car. They fought against it the whole way, until we backed down.
She said, ‘If I gave you two walkers, then I would have to give everyone two walkers.’ I didn’t realize having two walkers, that would have been $75 extra every five years, was a luxury.
This instance was head-scratching, but then things got worse, much worse.
They said in the life care plan that I didn’t need a physical therapist. They said I could use an exercise DVD.
That was just insulting. It was insulting not only to me and my family, but to all physical therapists. There is no shape, way, or form that an exercise DVD will ever be able to replicate the trained eye of a licensed PT. The opposing lawyer later apologized and said no insult was ever intended.
Toward the end of the case, we began mediation. Before the first meeting, we met with the mediator. We were told by the mediator to take emotion out of the case because they weren’t going to have it in the case. They really don’t care.”
A member of RD’s legal team commented, “In getting his award, the law firm, RD, and his family fought tooth and nail for things that he needs for his medical care.”
“There was one point in the case that the opposing lawyer cried and told me she wished she could give me the moon. She claimed she would give more money for home modifications if we had someone come for a home visit, to evaluate modifications we could make to our home environment.
Once she got the results, she strung us along for four more months and then she disregarded his advice and refused to give more money. It was very upsetting that she wasted our time like this.
But this kept happening. Things like this happened too much. It was very strange.
Toward the end of the case, right after the home mods incident, we had a final mediation. At the mediation, there was a letter that had to deal with lost wages. We discovered that she had been cherry picking numbers from the letter, to support what she believed my lost wages should be.
By using the proper numbers, not the ones she cherry-picked, I was entitled to much more money, but she refused to give me the full amount. She basically took away money for no apparent reason. If we questioned it, she would get angry and even threatened to drag the case along for many more years.
Maybe the reason she treated me like this was because, at that point, I was nineteen, so maybe she didn’t care. Or maybe she didn’t like that I was intelligent and saw what she was doing to us. It was just unbelievable that she would push so hard against me.
To do this to a young man and his family who have gone through so much struggle and heartache, I believe you truly have to be a very special kind of person. And I’ll leave it at that.”
What RD and His Family Have Learned About Vaccines
RD’s mom gave thought to words she would share with families who are making decisions about whether or not to vaccinate their children:
“There’s a whole population of people who are affected by vaccines. If anybody really wants to know, they should go to a spinal cord injury center and they would probably be able to find a multitude of people who have been affected by vaccines.
Most of the people, the physical therapists, are wearing masks because the flu vaccine is mandatory and they don’t want to get the flu vaccine. They work with people who are there with injuries because of vaccines.
The doctors, for some reason, if they don’t get the vaccines, they will be discredited. They know what happens with the vaccines and they don’t want to put their body through that.
It’s a very controversial situation, the vaccines, too. A few years ago they had the measles outbreak. When they show somebody whose child was not vaccinated, they always show some crazy-looking person.
I was very in tune and agitated with how they represented the people who don’t get vaccines. Patricia Finn was on CNN and she represented herself very well; 99 percent of the people they show in the news who don’t get vaccinated don’t look credible. They look like they wouldn’t be judged as someone who is making a conscious decision about their child.
I have to stay away when someone is putting something on social media about vaccines. It’s very agitating how people are representing vaccines.”
RD shared his own thoughts about vaccine injuries:
“People fail to realize there is a percentage of people who are suffering from vaccine injuries. Either they don’t believe you can get a vaccine injury, or someone who gets a vaccine injury, and they don’t realize you can actually get vaccine injuries.
I feel that if you present that [the results of three separate, conclusive medical tests] to any fair minded person, they should be able to put two and two together and know that the vaccines caused the myelitis.
I will never get another vaccine and my sister won’t. It’s very scary that they are trying to mandate things, forcing people to take medication or inject things into their bodies.”
RD’s mom stated, with frustration evident in her voice:
“It’s poison. They are telling people what they have to do. It’s like playing Russian roulette. They don’t care.”
RD added, speaking about the benefit of acquiring natural immunity, rather than the temporary ‘protection’ of vaccination, “If you get chicken pox naturally, your body will recognize it for the rest of its life.”
“People believe that it’s this thing that should never be questioned. It’s very amazing that the opposition to it is just stifled so much. People are called lunatics if they actually question and bring forward the truth.”
RD, speaking with wisdom gained through painful experience, advised parent and teens:
“Never just believe the doctor. Always find out what the side effects are. See if you should be tested if you even need the vaccine. I would say no, but if you are being forced or mandated, see if you can get tested first for antibodies, or don’t get the vaccine at all.”
RD’s mother shared her own advice for families who are deciding whether or not to vaccinate:
“I would definitely want to be tested first for antibodies. I feel that, according to our case, the pain and the injury outweigh [the benefits of] the vaccine.”
“It wasn’t worth the years of suffering and continued suffering is not worth [missing] three days of being itchy with the chicken pox.”
What To Do If Your Child Is Vaccine-Injured
Even though health care providers are required by law to report vaccine injuries, it is estimated that only 1-10% of adverse reactions to vaccines are actually reported.
Parents may not know that common reactions to vaccines, including fevers, long bouts of crying, or rashes following vaccination should be reported to their child’s doctor. When a more serious adverse event occurs, parents may be too overwhelmed to make sure a report is filed.
If your child is injured after a vaccine, inform your child’s healthcare provider immediately. If your child’s doctor will not file a report, you can file a claim yourself. However, it is recommended to retain an attorney who is familiar with this process and the requirements of the program. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program pays for legal fees and reasonable costs in pursuit of a vaccine injury claim.
If you would like to learn more about this government program, you may wish to read The Scary Facts Most Parents Don’t Know About Vaccine Injury Compensation.
RD’s attorney, Patricia Finn, known as “the good health lawyer,” is a vaccine injury and exemption attorney based in New York who has represented thousands of families with exemption matters and has been representing vaccine injury victims in Vaccine Court for more than ten years. She advises individuals and parents, “If you believe you have been injured by a vaccine, seek medical treatment and call our office to see if you are eligible to file a claim for vaccine injury in the Vaccine Court.”
Doctors often assure parents that vaccines are safe, using phrases like “one in a million” and “rare” to describe adverse reactions. Yet, with sad stories like RD’s, thousands of adverse events reported to VAERS, and the creation of a special court for vaccine injuries, informed parents know those vaccine safety claims are simply not true.
If you have not already done so, please consider the overall safety of vaccinations. A federal program has awarded billions of dollars, through an arduous, emotionally painful process, to people whose family members have suffered injury or death at the legally protected hands of pharmaceutical companies.
If vaccines are so safe, why do we need federal programs to compensate victims, meanwhile protecting the vaccine makers?
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