“A worried mother does better research than the FBI.” Someone posted that on my Facebook page this week. When I saw it, my mind returned to the summer of 2006 when my grandson Jake was taken from my daughter and me. Not literally, but it felt that way. The child we had known for three and a half years was no longer there.
It all started with a series of rabies vaccines he had after we discovered a rabid bat in our house. Within a few weeks of finishing the shots, Jake’s 25-word paragraphs were replaced with silence or screams or both. Things Ann and I took for granted—feeding himself a bowl of cereal, putting his pajamas on super fast so he’d have time to watch one more episode of SpongeBob before bedtime, giggling as he pretended that his Fisher-Price Little People were fighting over whose turn it was to go down the slide or ride on the merry-go-round—just stopped.
To say we were scared would be an understatement. I can’t find the words to describe what we were feeling. Never have been able to. I do know that we were both too afraid to talk about it. Our silence was almost as loud as Jake’s.
Knowledge Is Power
After Ann and I grieved—each on our own—for a few days, numb, feeling like someone had died, we put all our effort and what little strength we had into finding out what was happening to Jake. We got on our computers and Googled “child regression” or something similar. It was obsessive. It was exhausting. It was very, very scary reading all those stories that sounded just like ours. Scary to know these kids had something called autism.
Thank God for the Internet. My daughter and I didn’t have to leave the house to go to the library, leave Jake, talk to anyone, or, worst of all, say it out loud. Saying the word would make it real. We weren’t ready for that. Not yet.
This is what my family has always done. You have a question about something, you research it. In today’s world, Google it. At least that’s how we would start. My adopted dad loved the saying, “Knowledge is power.” And for Ann and me, it was very, very true. Knowing what we were dealing with, even though it was frightening, made us stronger. Reading all those stories helped me detach. I became completely focused on figuring out how we were going to get Jake back. That was my purpose. My only purpose. I found myself keeping a journal. This became obsessive, too. I wrote more than 120,000 words beginning with Jake’s first symptoms through last summer. This journal eventually turned into a book, Unlocking Jake: The Story of a Rabies Vaccine, Autism & Recovery.
At the same time I was running across ways to help me cope, I noticed Ann gradually reaching out to her friends, getting names of doctors who treated autism, discovering what was helping their kids get better and what wasn’t. Perhaps most important, we were both learning that we weren’t alone. And that was empowering.
The Link Is Undeniable
The longer we did our research, the harder it became to ignore a common thread in the stories we were reading. Oh, there were many things in common. Symptoms we had never heard of or seen before, such as hand flapping and toe walking and sensitivities to certain sounds or textures. An all-consuming effort by these parents to recover their children. The crushing wear and tear on the families. The financial burden. And on and on. But the one thing—a single word—that jumped off every page as though it was in bold type: vaccine.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I got vaccines when I was a child. My girls were vaccinated. We’re all fine. We don’t have autism. How could this be? I quickly answered my own question with several other questions. How many vaccines did I have? It’s been awhile, but I’m pretty sure it was just 3 (smallpox, DTP, and polio). How many did my girls have? I think my oldest daughter, born in 1976, had 5. Ann, born in 1983, had 10. How many are children given today? 36, give or take a couple, by age 6.
More questions. How could this possibly be safe? How could anyone get this many shots and not run the risk of having some sort of reaction? My whole life I’ve known people who were allergic to penicillin or some other drug or foods like peanuts or eggs. There are allergies to almost everything you can name. Drugs are constantly being recalled because of adverse reactions. There are new warnings almost every week about commonplace drugs like Tylenol.
Another word in the stories that might as well have been boldfaced: coincidence. The word doctors used to explain what happened to these children who regressed into autism after a vaccine. A coincidence. Well, I’ve read hundreds of stories by now. And each person in the stories I’ve read has read dozens, if not hundreds, of stories. They are all the same. And now there’s one thing I no longer question. And that is whether vaccines can trigger autism. Because I know it can happen. I saw it happen to my grandson. He was three and a half. He had not had a childhood vaccine since he was 15 months old. He had not been on any kind of medicine, been bitten or stung by anything, or ingested any type of poison. He developed autism because of the rabies vaccine. Something in those five doses—or one or a combination of more than one of them—caused autism in Jake. Maybe the rabies vaccine was his “toxic tipping point”—the last straw, so to speak. Maybe he handled those 30 doses of childhood vaccines and he just couldn’t handle the rabies vaccine.
Just Do This Much
After what happened to Jake, my three daughters stopped getting their kids vaccines. It didn’t take long—maybe a matter of weeks—before we were so alarmed by what we were learning that we said no more. And we started sharing what we learned with other parents. Because I think human beings have a responsibility to try to educate others about something that could be dangerous. Especially to helpless babies and children.
When I first started writing my book, my goal was to try to offer hope to families struggling with autism. To tell them what helped Jake. And what helped Ann and me cope and survive. But I soon had a second purpose. And that was to clearly tell the story of what the rabies vaccine did to my grandson.
I do not claim to be an expert by any means. I’m not a doctor or a scientist—if that would indeed make me an expert when it comes to the autism-vaccine controversy. But I am a grandmother who saw what happened to Jake. I saw it every day. I watched him fade away like an old photograph. I watched him take two steps forward and three steps backward while he went through two years of regressions. And I have watched him recover. And now, now that I am not suffocating with grief and fear, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to help anybody I can possibly help.
I have run into many people who already agree with me, others who listen with open minds and are willing to learn more, and some whose eyes glaze over if I use the words “autism” and “vaccine” in the same sentence. But those who are at least open to listening to me, I ask them to just do this much.
Say no to the 24-hour hepatitis B shot. You will have two months before the two-month checkup when the shots begin. And that’s two months to do your own research. Go to the National Vaccine Information Center Web site and click on “Vaccines” and then “Vaccine Ingredient Calculator.”  You can also see the package inserts for vaccines online.  Find out for yourself exactly what your child is being injected with. (By the way, although you may have been told that mercury has been removed from all shots, you will see that this is not true. It’s still in some vaccines.) After you’ve done the math, ask yourself if YOU would take those same shots. All at the same time.
Never let your child have a vaccine when he is sick. I remember when I was a child, I sometimes lied and told my mom I had a sore throat when I was going for a checkup. Even at 10 years old, I knew that my pediatrician wouldn’t give me a vaccine if I was sick. I have talked to parents who take their child to the doctor because he has an ear infection, maybe with a fever. He is given an antibiotic, Motrin or Tylenol, and 6, 7, 8, or 9 doses of vaccines. The child is already sick. His immune system is already compromised. How can his tiny body possibly handle anything else? I think back to when we got Jake a kitten a few years ago. We took him to the vet for an eye infection. The vet casually said he was due for a couple shots, “but we don’t vaccinate sick or stressed animals.” I was so shocked to hear those words that I asked her to repeat what she had said. Then, I asked her to explain. She said that a cat like ours who had an eye infection and was traumatized by being thrown out of a car window in a bag and was now with a new owner in a new residence should not be vaccinated. This was a vet talking about an animal. Might be nice to hear a pediatrician say the same thing about a child.
Question what you read. When you read a “scientific” study claiming that no link has been proven between vaccines and autism, do the research and see who funded the study. It may have been a vaccine manufacturer or someone else with a financial interest in the outcome.  I love this quote: “To rely on drug companies for unbiased evaluations of their products makes about as much sense as relying on beer companies to teach us about alcoholism. The conflict of interest is obvious.” 
I know. For some of you, I’m preaching to the choir. For some of you, I just might have a point. For some of you, I’m out of my mind. I’ve learned over the last few years that, no matter how hard I try, some people simply won’t even consider a link between vaccines and autism. But that won’t stop me from trying. I will keep talking and telling my story. The truth about vaccines will keep coming out.
Photo Credit: Dionne Hartnett