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Chickenpox claimed the life of my son Christopher

Christopher Aaron Chinnes
June 7, 1976 to June 30, 1988

This life-saving, informative web site, on the varicella virus (chickenpox), is dedicated to my son, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, who lost his life to chickenpox at age 12. Merck's vaccine (Varivax) wasn't licensed when he was young, but it had been in testing for many years. Now it is available, and I am continuing to fulfill a promise I made to myself and to him. "Mom, I saw a special on television. It's about kids who know they are going to die. People give them what they wish for," he explained. As he spoke those words, an incredible sense of sadness swept over me. I swallowed hard and choked back tears as I asked, "And what would you wish for if you knew that you were going to die and you could have anything in the world?" "I would want to do something to help all the sick children in the world," he said without hesitation. (Christopher Aaron Chinnes, died exactly six days later.) I've worked since his death in 1988 to see that no one is injured or dies from this, or any preventable disease again. Now it is possible. Following is the testimony I gave before the US Congressional Committee on Government Reform, August 3, 1999. 
My name is Rebecca Cole, and I am the mother of five children. I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice, but I can share my personal experience with you. I have faced the worst nightmare any parent can possibly face. There is no experience on earth that compares to the horror and devastation of losing a child. It is shattered dreams, crushed wishes, and a future that suddenly vanishes before our eyes. It cannot be wished away, slept away, prayed away, or screamed away. It is darkness, agony, and shock. It leaves our hearts, broken, bleeding, and bursting with pain, and it changes us forever. 
My life changed forever on June 30, 1988, when I had to stand by helplessly as an infectious disease claimed the life of my oldest child, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, at the age of 12. Christopher, was a beautiful little boy who had light blonde hair, and deep, brown eyes. He was full of compassion, joy, and energy. He loved baseball, and every living creature on the earth. He wanted to be a scientist or doctor. I can honestly say that my son was one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever known, and I am proud to have been his mother.
Christopher was born a very healthy child, but at the age of eight he developed asthma. It was never a problem for him, and it never kept him from doing the things he loved. But, on June 16, 1988, four years after he was diagnosed, he suffered his first and only severe asthma attack. He had to be hospitalized and was treated with all of the normally prescribed drugs, including a corticosteroid. (Anti-inflammatory drugs used in asthma, arthritis, allergies, etc.) He was released four days later with several medications to finish at home, and he was well on his way to recovery. On June 23, exactly one week after the asthma attack, he broke out with the chickenpox. "Don't worry, you'll get over it," I told him. What I didn't know was that the corticosteroid, had lowered his body's immune response and he could not fight the disease. The chickenpox began to rampage wildly through his young body. As I drove him to the emergency room, on June 27, my four younger children watched silently in shock and horror as their brother went into seizures, went blind, turned gray, and collapsed due to hemorrhaging in his brain. That afternoon Christopher was flown from Camp Lejuene's Naval Hospital to East Carolina University's Medical Center, but the chickenpox was uncontrollably sweeping through him like a wildfire, and there was nothing anyone could do. The next day Christopher suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma.
As my beautiful little boy lay swollen beyond recognition, and hemorrhaging from every area imaginable, including out into the blisters on his skin, I learned that a vaccine existed, but was not yet licensed by the FDA. A vaccine that could have prevented the unimaginable suffering of my child, and all who knew him. On June 30, 1988, exactly one week after breaking out with chickenpox, Christopher passed away. He died. He wasn't injured. He wasn't left acting differently. He wasn't crippled. He died. My priceless little boy lay on a cold steel table, swollen beyond recognition, cold, and dead. Gone from me. Gone from life itself. I cannot hold him, kiss him, see his smile, or listen to his laughter as he chases a ball or bullfrog. Instead, I visit a grave. The chickenpox virus destroyed every organ in his body, and it cut pieces from the hearts of everyone who witnessed its devastation. 
Vaccines prevent countless deaths each year. Without them the number of valuable human beings we'd lose would be staggering. Yes, sadly, some injuries and deaths occur as a result of vaccines, but unfortunately, there are risks with every single drug we use. We have and will not ever reach perfection. We must remember that the benefits of our vaccines far outweigh the risks. Especially for those who are ill or immunosuppressed like Christopher was. There are innocent children and adults who come in contact with the public everyday who would die if they were exposed to the diseases we can prevent. If everyone around them is vaccinated, they are also protected. We owe it to them and to ourselves as a nation to achieve the highest level of protection possible. We must win the, world-wide, war against infectious disease, and vaccines are our most powerful weapons. We cannot win, however, if we do not use them. Leaving any population unprotected is like surrendering to a defeatable foe. We must never surrender! 
Please don't get the impression that only those who are immunosuppressed can have problems with chickenpox. Anyone can. In fact about half of those who suffer complications or die each year are normal healthy people.

(No one is sure just what dose of corticosteroid it takes to lower an individual's resistance, and most people on these valuable drugs do well when they get the chickenpox or other infections. Without knowing for sure though, who would want to take a chance. Even inhaled corticosteroids can possibly lower a child's resistance: Do not take anyone off of corticosteroids suddenly! The drug has to be withdrawn slowly. Consult your doctor or pharmacist for more information, and don't be scared, be informed.

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Medical references: "Fatal varicella after a single course of corticosteroids." William J. Kasper, MD and Patricia M. Howe, MD. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 9:729-732,1990. Encyclopedia Britannica's Medical and Health annual, 1994, page 19. "Asthma, Corticosteroids, and Chickenpox: My personal experience." North Carolina Family Physician, Winter 1993, Vol. 44, number 1. by Rebecca E. Cole.
Funding of our site:
This site is supported by me, Rebecca E. Cole, private donations and all revenue from the advertisements on this site.

In Memory of
Dr. Patrick Dobbs Ellison, DVM
Christopher's grandfather
One of our foundation's most dedicated supporters
June 19, 1931 to April 25, 2006

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Date last modified: October 16, 2007