Timothy Jacks, DO, FAAP
August 4, 2016
“There was a case of measles in the heme/onc clinic this week, and your family may have been exposed,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“Wait. What?” was all I could say. The news would surprise and disturb any parent, but our immunosuppressed daughter and 10-month-old son lacked adequate immunity. They would need immunoglobulin injections for some passive protection and then require quarantine.
Measles exposure. Immunoglobulin injections. Quarantine. These were not words we wanted to hear.Our three-year-old daughter was six months into treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and had just been discharged from her sixth hospital stay. This admission was for IV chemotherapy. Now home, we had visited the outpatient specialty clinic to check medication clearance. The entire family was looking forward to time away from doctors with their pokes and prodding.
With this news, a mixture of emotions ensued. Confusion. How did this happen at a hematology-oncology clinic? Frustration. Who did this?!? Fear. For those immunosuppressed like my daughter and too young to immunize like my young son, measles infections are especially risky. As my fears calmed, I considered our situation.
"Immunization is vital to protecting us all, but especially the most vulnerable among us."
As a father, I would do anything in my power to protect and keep my children healthy. The situation what it was, my options were limited. Get immunoglobulin injections. Stay at home under quarantine. Wait for infection. Pray for protection. Update friends and family on our situation.
As a pediatrician, my mission was to promote health through educating families and encouraging healthy choices. In that moment, I wanted to stress the importance of immunizations and the needlessness of my family’s current situation. To this end, I blogged on my daughter’s CaringBridge page. I explained our daughter’s illness and her increased risk of serious infection. I talked about measles, its contagiousness, and how the current measles outbreak could have been easily prevented with vaccinations.
Our little blog typically got a few hundred views by family and friends. This particular post went viral. It garnered tens of thousands of views in a couple of days, was reposted on major online news outlets, was eventually shared on Facebook over a million times and reached countless readers.
"We must take advantage of opportunities, both big and small, as they present themselves and educate families about the importance of vaccines."
Then the reporters started calling.
While the protective father was hesitant, the pediatrician recognized a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote vaccinations and educate to masses.
One interview turned into ten and then twenty. At first, calls came from local news and radio. Then national as well as international news, radio, and online media pickup up our story and spread the word. Through the efforts of Every Child By Two and The Arizona Partnership for Immunization, I had the opportunity to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing highlighted the reemergence of vaccine preventable diseases, and I was able to share our poignant story in support of immunizations.
In the end, our children endured quarantine but did not contract measles. Our son, now two years old, remains healthy and fully vaccinated. Our daughter, now four years old, nears the end of her leukemia treatment with hope for a complete cure. Our third child is just a newborn and is thus at risk from many vaccine preventable diseases.
Our patients will age and change, but our mission remains. As pediatricians, we strive to maximize health and minimize illness. We must take advantage of opportunities, both big and small, as they present themselves and educate families about the importance of vaccines. Immunization is vital to protecting us all, but especially the most vulnerable among us.
Timothy Jacks, DO, FAAP serves on the Board of Directors for the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the scientific advisory board for Every Child by Two. He is the husband of a beautiful wife, the father of three feisty children, and a pediatrician to many in the greater Phoenix area.