It’s Wednesday and I am bringing back my absolute favorite series on the blog, Worthy Wednesday. Kicking off today is my friend Andrea. We met at the Shot@Life Summit a few years ago when we sat across from one another at dinner. We chatted away like we were old friends and I have had a special place in my heart for her ever since. Andrea is a true warrior for global vaccines and today I am so excited that she is posting on my blog
Over the weekend my baby daughter got sick again. Had a fever, high respiratory rate, stuffy nose, glassy eyes. Call to the doctor that directed us to go to the ER, our second trip there this year. Just an ear infection. My pre-school son got so sick a few months ago. Was fine until he wasn’t. Suddenly tired, freezing cold, couldn’t get enough blankets on him. This, right on the tail of a public health alert about a child dying of the flu in a town nearby. Saw the doctor, it was just a virus making its way around town.
I am a champion. Not just a Shot@Life Champion, a nice title given to volunteers, but a champion at worrying, and that is something I share with all of you reading this blog right now, because we are all OLYMPIC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONS at worrying about our children and loved ones (amirite?).
My kids had a fever. I could tell because I had a thermometer. I had a phone and a number to call. I had a nurse to talk to on the phone and a doctor with same day appointments and insurance and income to pay for it. Earlier this year I had a hospital that took great care of my daughter for 4 days when she was so sick with RSV. My kids have been vaccinated. People have asked me if it was scary to have my baby girl in the hospital. It wasn’t. She had great care and we knew what we were dealing with. What is scary is when they start to get sick and you don’t know what’s wrong. You don’t know what it might develop into. Your mind races, it goes into terrible places. You may feel a bit helpless, unable to control a nasty illness just with your love and attentiveness and occasional squirts of nasal saline. You let it run its course, you’re there to love, unable to intervene and carefully Hulk-smash every bad germ in their body, unable to wave the magic wand that makes them perk up and not look at you with that thousand-mile gaze. You HATE IT when your kids are sick.
Somewhere else last weekend, somewhere far away, a parent has a baby who doesn’t look right, a kid who doesn’t feel good. They worry because the doctor is too far away or medicine isn’t available or affordable. They too hope they can ride it out with love and attentiveness. And they worry, just like you do, just like every parent or loved one has done since the dawn of time.
Vaccines will not stop parents from worrying or their kids from getting sick entirely (oh how I wish they could), but they have done something so remarkable it’s almost impossible to imagine. In the year 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles alone took the lives of an estimated 2.6 million people, the majority of them children under age 5. In 2014 that figure dropped down to 114,900—a huge improvement, HUGE, but still that’s way too many people dying of a preventable cause. The World Health Organization estimates that because of accelerated immunization activities, the measles vaccine alone prevented 17.1 million deaths from 2000-2014. Source: http://www.who.int/
Seventeen million. I can’t wrap my mind around 17 million, and I bet you can’t either. I guess I can start with the population of my state (Nebraska-1.9 million) and add the population of Sarah’s state of New Jersey (around 9 million) but envisioning all of those people only gets us to 10,854,203. Let’s add Washington DC, the place where I met Sarah. Now we’re up to 11.5 million. Still about 5.5 million shy, so we’ll add Minnesota or Colorado (or Slovakia or Denmark!), take your pick. Now imagine all of them in a group, just sitting around, smiling. These are the lives saved in just 15 years with one vaccine. My simple brain still can’t really imagine it, but I can think of ONE person—one baby—one vaccine that might have been the difference between life and death. One set of parents, worrying, and being relieved when it turns out OK. Just one.
I have a pebble. It’s not glamorous, it’s not special, it’s not a rock or boulder or newsworthy in itself, but it’s mine to throw into the water and I will throw it hard and see what ripples it can make because it’s the least I can do. I am a mother, a slightly neurotic one, and I worry, and that does not embarrass or isolate me, that unites me with every other mother who is worrying right now, who is suffering watching her child suffer, who just wants things to be alright. That is why I do what I do as a Shot@Life Champion, that is why I won’t shut up on FB or IRL, why I come up with silly fundraisers, why I leave my family to go to Washington DC and talk to my members of Congress. I do that because I’ve been there, I’ve worried myself sick over my kids getting sick, but I have resources and health care and immunizations and so many people don’t.
Vaccines save lives. Shot@Life provides children in developing countries with 4 vaccines that prevent the biggest causes of death and disability to children – measles, pneumonia, rotavirus, and polio. The measles vaccine saved 17 million lives in the last decade and a half, but one out of every 5 kids doesn’t have access to them. I want to close the gap. I want to help, I want to stop that. I want to give some hope to some parents out there who are worried sick.
And the exciting thing is that I can. So can you. Learn how to help. Become a Champion. www.shotatlife.org
Andrea Riley is a Shot@Life Champion who met Sarah at the 2013 Champion Summit and bonded with her over their mutual love of kids, vaccines, and furry friends. She lives in Lincoln, NE with her husband, two kids, and two black labs.