Parents' worry over jab

Standard & Guardian 30/09/1999

By Deanne Smith

WHILE medical experts wrangle nationally over whether the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine can cause autism, one local family faced a heartbreaking milestone in their four-year-old twins' lives.

Rachel Heal started school at Oakhill while her twin brother Matthew stayed at home waiting for a place at a special school.

Their father Roger Heal, a Stoke St Michael farmer, said the situation was more heartbreaking as they believe there was nothing wrong with Matthew until he was given the MMR injection at 18 months old.

The twins' mother Hazel said that until then there had been no indication of any problem, but shortly after the injection Matthew developed an ear infection followed by a rash all over his body.

Doctors told her it was a virus.

She said: "He just lay on the settee for six weeks. I thought he was going to have to go into hospital.

"His appetite naturally trailed off as you would expect but it was not only that, he stopped saying the few words he had started speaking and seemed to regress.

"At first we thought it was his hearing but that was tested and then he was put through some developmental tests which he failed."

Having been told that Matthew had severe developmental problems Hazel and Roger were still not clear what was wrong with him until the paediatrician, health visitor and GP turned up at their house one day and broke the news of the diagnosis.

Hazel said: "I was in a state of shock. They just gave me some leaflets on autism and left us to it.

Hazel and Roger had already been through years of medical trauma in order to have the twins.

They have an 11-year-old son Daniel and wanted a larger family, but an infection resulted in Hazel having an ectopic pregnancy.

Determined to have more children the couple spent four years and all their life savings on IVF treatment.

"I felt like the light had come back on in our lives," said Hazel. "We went through so much to have these babies and Daniel was over the moon to have a little brother and sister.

"They both did well after they were born and at their eight-month check Matthew was only about a month behind his sister.

"He had started to walk and talk, saying Mum and Dad and repeating animal noises. Then they went for their MMR.

"If we had been warned of the risks at the time I don't know what we would have decided but at least we could have made an informed choice."

Roger said: "I am 99.9 per cent sure that Matthew would be all right now if he had not had the jab.

"I found it so hard taking Rachel to school for the first time last week and knowing that Matthew should have been there as well."

The couple want a full investigation to be made into any connection between the vaccine and autism.

They do not want to panic other parents but feel they should be better informed.

Roger and Hazel are now looking into a hormone treatment, which has helped children in the USA.

Trials have been carried out into the use of Secretin, which has shown dramatic improvements in some children.

Roger said: "It is not yet available in this country on the NHS and to get a first injection costs at least 1,500."

Last week Dr Ken Aitken, an international authority on autism, announced that he was going to give evidence on behalf of 100 parents seeking compensation from the pharmaceutical industry for damage they claim the MMR jab did to their children.

But he stressed that parents should continue to inoculate their children to avoid the real risk of epidemics.

He said: "These children are not showing signs of autism from birth, which would be the normal pattern, but are developing well and then suddenly regressing."

Government chief medical officer Liam Donaldson said on television last week that the risk of epidemics was very real.

Last year 16 children died from measles, and mumps can sometimes lead to meningitis.

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