A 13-year-old boy who was left severely disabled following a routine vaccination has been awarded compensation by a United States Court.
The young man was left paralysed 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’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.
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.”