Some people hold the opinion that if your children are immunized, it doesn’t matter if others choose not to vaccinate.
This is my son.
In this picture, he’s wearing his first Halloween costume. A nurse in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit at MUSC gave it to him. He has born with a massive heart defect, and wouldn’t have lived long enough to wear this costume if not for the incredible work by the neonatologists and critical care providers at Palmetto Health Baptist who realized that something was wrong and got him into intensive care even before his mother had been able to touch him.
In the hours after his birth, he was transported to MUSC where he was stabilized and prepared for open heart surgery.
There aren’t many pictures of him for the next six months. He and my wife were in quarantine for that time, unable to visit family and friends unless they also isolated themselves. I spent the next six months having no physical contact with any person outside my home, scrubbing myself with antibiotic soaps several times a day, and maintaining strict cleanliness standards to avoid getting sick myself or bringing any pathogens into our home. When I got home at night, I stripped in a makeshift cleanroom, then showered and donned clean clothes before I could have any contact with my wife and son. After I had showered, the bathroom was disinfected again, just in case.
My son was medically fragile during this period, and had I come in contact with someone infected with a preventable disease, and taken it home to him, I hate to think how I may have reacted.
This is us, some time later.
Although he has been relatively healthy, he is never completely safe. He had to have another open heart surgery when he was 11 months old, followed by another — albeit shorter — quarantine period.
Things were okay for a while, almost boring, really, but when he was 7 years old, he developed a minor infection. Most children would have fought it off with no problem, but for my son, this was the result:
After weeks of fevers, chills, lethargy, and fear, he was finally diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis: the minor infection — which for most kids would have been cleared up in a day or two of rest — had settled into the scar tissue around his heart. He’d been in the hospital for a week before this picture was taken and was only able to go home after having this peripherally inserted central catheter line placed, and only then because his mother had sufficient medical training, and we had proven ourselves capable of maintaining quarantine. He spent another few weeks getting injections at home and was so sick during this period that he was granted a Wish by the Make-A-Wish foundation.
A minor infection — that doctors determined was probably due to a loose tooth that had hung on longer than normal and bled a bit, and that any normal child would have fought off with ease — almost killed my son.
My son’s heart condition requires ongoing maintenance. As he grows, the parts of his heart that have been replaced don’t grow with him. A few years after his brush with death, it was time for his pulmonary valve to be replaced. The plan was to insert a balloon catheter into the valve, inflate it to stretch the valve out, then place a stent with a new synthetic valve in it. This is us getting an MRI so the doctors could see what they were about to do.
Notice that we’re both grinning? Everyone was in a good mood. Everyone was having fun. We were doing our best to calm the nerves of that scared little boy under the sheet. He’d been dreading this surgery for months and we were just — at this point — trying to keep him sane. We were doing a pretty good job, right up until the results of the MRI came back.
Damage from the infection meant that, instead of a relatively minor procedure, my son was going to have to have a full-blown open-heart surgery. He would have to be sedated, his heart stopped, his chest cut open, his ribs spread apart. His heart would be cut open, a part of it cut off, and a new part sewn on. He was old enough to understand all of this. You can imagine how heavily it weighed on us.
Of course, we went back into quarantine. Had I come into contact with someone carrying a communicable disease during the run-up to the surgery, had I brought it home to him or to his mother, the results could have been unthinkable. He was tired, weak. His circulation had gotten so poor that he was exhausted most of the time, and he wouldn’t have been able to fight off a serious illness.
Luckily, we kept him healthy. This is him when he came home from the last surgery.
That’s his sister, happy to have him home. I wish I could remember what prompted this fit of laughter. I do remember him being sore afterward. The scar is quite impressive.
Why do I say all this? How does it relate to someone else’s decision to vaccinate or not?
Well, some kids — like my son — can’t take the chance. Even though he’s had all his normal vaccinations and then some, there’s always the chance that one of them will fail. There’s always the chance that even if the vaccines don’t fail, that if he does come in contact with these deadly, preventable diseases, he might not be strong enough to fight them off — he almost died from a loose tooth. He relies on the effect of a vaccinated population to prevent these diseases from reaching him in the first place.
This is not a hypothetical. This is not statistics. This is a child, who relies on medical science to keep him alive.
This post originally appeared on Quora.