Boy, 2, who contracted polio from vaccine, dies
Parents say he gave no signs he had pneumonia. "I can't even believe he's gone.
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
By Glenn Coin
Zachary Strain, the little boy who contracted polio from the very vaccine
designed to prevent it, died of pneumonia Saturday.
He would have turned 3 in March.
"We knew he would have a shortened life span, but nothing like this,"
Zachary's father, Patrick Strain of Madison, said Monday.
Zachary had been paralyzed from the neck down since he was 2 months old,
when he received the oral polio vaccine. The vaccine is made from a live
virus, and causes polio in about 1 of every 2.4 million doses.
Children no longer receive the oral vaccine in the United States. They
receive injections, which are made from the dead polio virus and thus can't
cause the disease.
At the time Zachary received the vaccine, in May 1999, the federal
government had already issued guidelines urging doctors not to give oral
vaccine to infants. In January 2000, the government ended the use of oral
vaccine in the United States.
Ben Siragusa of Liverpool, who had polio himself and has worked with the
Strains to get help for Zachary, said Monday he had mixed emotions about
"It was almost predestined to be a short life span," Siragusa said.
"Depending on your religious beliefs, he's in a far better place now. But
I'm sorry that he wasn't able to live a full life."
The Strains' mobile home was quiet Monday evening. The respirator and pump
that gave Zac
hary breath stood silently in the corner of the living room. For more than
two years, the respirator hummed ceaselessly, pumping air into Zachary's
lungs 24 times a minute.
Even with his body paralyzed, Zachary's mind had flourished, his parents
said. He learned the alphabet and could count to 100, Patrick said. He
liked to play with his sister and watch television; his favorite show was
And he could talk.
"He didn't stop talking," Patrick said. "He talked all day to anybody who
would listen to him."
"He used to be kind of bossy to the nurses," said Zachary's mother, Kristen
Strain. "He used to tell them, 'I need a treatment' or 'I need to be
suctioned,' even if he didn't need it."
Kristen said Zachary loved his sister, 5-year-old Ashley.
"He liked it when she was rough with him," Kristen said. "She would
literally bounce him off the couch and he would laugh hysterically."
Zachary was still getting used to Timmy, his brother who just turned 1 this
month, Patrick said. Timmy kept trying to grab Zachary's breathing tube,
and Zachary would shout at him to stop.
Zachary's expensive medical care was paid for by Medicaid.
Kristen and Patrick Strain had been working with lawyers to receive
guaranteed care for the rest of Zachary's life from the government's
special compensation program for injury victims.
Their lawyer, Cliff Shoemaker of Virginia, estimated in 2000 that Zachary's
care over a normal life span might reach $28 million.
Now, Shoemaker said, Zachary's case will be treated as a wrongful death
under the compensation program.
If the Strains decide not to accept the government's proposed settlement,
they can file a malpractice suit.
Dr. Mark Ohl, the pediatrician who gave Zachary the vaccine, works for
Community Memorial Hospital in Hamilton.
Hospital spokesman Mike Ogden said Monday neither hospital officials nor
Ohl can talk about the case.
"But certainly the Strain family has our deepest, heartfelt condolences and
sympathy," Ogden said.
Zachary was a healthy, normal 2-month-old baby when Ohl gave Zachary a drop
of polio vaccine on his tongue. A couple weeks later, Zachary developed a
fever and then went limp.
For the first year of his life he was in the hospital more often than he
was at home, often to battle the pneumonia that invaded his weak lungs.
Last week, Zachary didn't show the usual signs of pneumonia, Kristen said.
He didn't have a fever and he didn't act sick.
"He was playing and he was being a wise guy, like he always did," Kristen
The first clue came suddenly Saturday, when Kristen heard the alarm beeping
on Zachary's respirator. She rushed in and began manually pumping more air
into Zachary's lungs.
Patrick tried CPR, and ambulance crews rushed Zachary to Community Memorial
Hospital in Hamilton, but it was too late. The Strains said doctors told
them Zachary had died from pneumonia.
"It's horrible," Patrick said Monday. "I can't even believe he's gone."
© 2002 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.