Debbie Procter

Hi. My name is Debbie, I am a nurse, and as a post-graduate I have studied tropical diseases, international health, public health and immunisations.

Our family’s story is one of allergies, whooping cough, and rotavirus. It’s a long one so grab a coffee.

Our second child was born with a lot of allergies and gut/stomach problems. After his first dose of the rotavirus vaccination he had a worsening of his gut issues (with vomiting and diarrhoea), and his specialist advised that we hold off on further vaccines until we had a clearer picture about his underlying medical problems. This was meant to be a ‘short term hold off’ period, but turned into years as his GP was uninformed, and nervous about making the decision to restart vaccinating him without specialist input.

During this time I became very concerned about the potential side effects of vaccines, and was introduced to the AVN by a fellow nurse. I received their information package, and although I knew their information wasn’t scientific or evidence based, I thought some of it must be true if they were allowed to call themselves the ‘Australian Vaccination Network’. “With a name like that, how could they not be a credible establishment?” my husband and I thought.

Luckily we did some more in depth, and scientific, reading, and when our son was 2 we restarted his vaccination program. He cruised through all of them apart from the second MMR, which lead to an itchy allergic reaction and swelling. This was unpleasant, and uncomfortable, but ultimately resolved completely, and having now had one child have an allergic reaction to a vaccine, and two with vaccine preventable diseases in their wild forms, I’ll take the allergic reaction any day. We are 100% happy that we vaccinated our children, but we completely understand the turmoil that some parents go through to make this decision. When there is false information out there that people are exposed to, it makes the decision even harder. You read the information, knowing it is not correct but still seeds of doubt are laid in your mind.

In 2011, a few months before our 3rd child was born, our lovely friends who lived near us lost their baby to whooping cough.

He was 10 weeks old.

We were devastated for them, and we became paranoid about our new baby daughter contracting whooping cough, especially when she was too young to have her vaccinations. We hardly left the house in those first 6 weeks.

When she was 3 wks old our son was suspected of having whooping cough, so the doctors put all of us on prophylactic antibiotics (antibiotics taken to prevent getting the infection). Luckily his test results came back negative.

Then when she was 11 weeks old, she became very ill and was admitted to hospital for a week, and again whooping cough was suspected. It turned out that she had a number of nasty viruses, but not whooping cough. However whilst we were waiting for those results she was given another course of prophylactic antibiotics.

When our baby was 5 months old, our eldest daughter developed a very bad cough, mainly at night or when she ate something cold. It seemed like an asthma flare up. We were away on holiday, but I took her to a local doctor, and he was concerned that it could be whooping cough. I stupidly said “I think it’s just a bad asthma flare up, as we have had so many scares already, and it hasn’t been whooping cough yet”. I was thinking, “here we go again, another false alarm and more prophylactic antibiotics”, but we left there without being tested, and without antibiotics.

Eight days later I developed the worst cough I have had in my life. Alarm bells went off, and I could hear the doctor’s words going round and round in my head. Of course I went straight to our family doctor and said that this time I was sure it was whooping cough. She tested me and put my husband and son on antibiotics, but did not give them to our 5 month old, as she felt she had already been given too many antibiotics in her short life. My results should have been back two days later, on the Friday. I was ringing all day to find out if they were back and the receptionist kept saying no. By the Monday I rang again and was told they still weren’t back, and also that my doctor was away until the Wednesday, and that no-one else could see me. In the end I had to cry and beg the receptionist to get someone to chase the results as I was so sure it was whooping cough, and our baby was not protected. They finally listened to me, and I was right, I did have whooping cough, and then our baby started prophylactic antibiotics.

But it was too late, she had already caught it and shortly after her symptoms developed.

Our baby girl had caught whooping cough off me even though I had been so careful to protect her! Our friends’ baby had died of whooping cough, and it was the one thing I feared most. It’s awful how the things you fear most in life chase you like a wolf in the night.

We managed to keep her out of hospital until she also developed norovirus (gastroenteritis), 5 days into being sick with whooping cough. Her little body couldn’t cope. She was in Tweed Heads Hospital, and then was transferred at 2am by an Intensive Care team to the Mater Hospital in Brisbane. We were not allowed to travel in the ambulance with her. It was heartbreaking seeing the ambulance drive off with one of our three most precious gifts on earth.

Our eldest daughter was 5 at the time she caught it and was also admitted to hospital. Her attacks at night were so vicious that she would turn blue and we couldn’t wake her. All night I would stay awake, on edge waiting for the next coughing attack to make sure I was by her side to offer little, insignificant help. There is nothing a parent can do but watch as they struggle to breath, and pray that it will pass. Once it finally does pass you remain in a state of hypervigilance until the next attack. This goes on, hour after hour, day after day.

I had been vaccinated for whooping cough just 2 years before I caught it, so only had mild disease, but it was still awful. When I was having a coughing fit I would hope for the stage of vomiting to start as that usually stopped the coughing. Vomiting was a relief! Once the isolation period was over it was still hard to go out in public for many weeks, as the coughing fits were so loud and embarrassing.

Thankfully, we all made a good recovery, and are now back to health.

My husband and son were both vaccinated as well and didn’t catch the disease.

Because of what had happened to our friends and my own family, I decided I needed to become more educated in the area, so I studied to become an immunisation nurse. I now work as a high school immunisation nurse and I love giving people the ‘good news’ message about vaccinations.

This year we have had another encounter with a vaccine preventable disease. This time, rotavirus. The vaccine wasn’t available when we had our first child. But this year she contracted rotavirus and was admitted into hospital within 14 hours of her first vomit. The next day she developed encephalitis (swelling and inflammation of the brain). This caused her to have a seizure and was very, very unwell. The paediatrician prepared us for the worse case scenario, but thankfully her little body fought it off. After five days of intravenous fluids and 6 days in hospital she was discharged home to continue her recovery. Our son, being the middle child and not one to be left out, also ended up joining us in hospital, with rotavirus, requiring intravenous fluids. He had received one dose of the rotavirus vaccine, was not as unwell, and recovered faster.

When I remember back to our daughter’s rigid body convulsing in my helpless arms, eyes vacant and not responding, before coming back for long enough to look at me with the greatest fear I have ever seen in her eyes, I can’t understand how people would choose this option over vaccination. It is the fear of the unknown that stops people from vaccinating, but the fear of the diseases should be so much greater. These diseases are deadly, and debilitating.

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