Richie was a thriving two month old baby boy, the second son born to a family in upstate New York when he got his first DPT shot in the winter of 1983. Richie's older brother had had severe reactions to his DPT shots, including high fevers, redness and swelling at the site of the injection, uncontrollable screaming, diarrhea and vomiting but the pediatrician had reassured Richie's Mom that these were "normal" reactions to DPT vaccine and not to worry. So Richie's Mom, who was a nurse, was prepared for Richie to be uncomfortable following his first DPT shot.
By the evening of the day Richie got his first DPT shot, the area around the site of the injection began to swell. Richie's Mom remembered how Richie's brother's leg had swelled up after his DPT shots. But then Richie's hip turned red and purple and soon the purple started to spread out from the injection site in round patches. Still, Richie didn't have a fever and continued to drink from his bottle so Richie's Mom didn't worry.
In the middle of the night, Richie woke up crying, then went back to sleep. But in the morning he woke up screaming "like a cat in pain." Richie's Mom thought his hip was bothering him.
After a brief nap Richie woke up crying again but his cry was weaker. After taking a bottle, he fell back to sleep. An hour later he had severe diarrhea with gas and mucous in his diapers. Then he fell asleep again until he again woke up crying.
This time when Richie's Mom went to pick him up, she found him soaked through two receiving blankets with a musty, pungent odor. While she washed him, she noticed he was limp and staring at her with "dark eyes." Instead of having a fever, he felt cool with ice cold hands. Thankful that her baby didn't have a fever, she didnt worry. She thought the house might be too cold and dressed him warmly, putting socks on his little hands.
Richie slowly drank eight ounces of water from his bottle and later that day had three more diapers with diarrhea in them. His leg still seemed to be sore. When he slept, his fingers twitched slightly. Later he gagged on the nipple of his bottle and vomited a little. Richie's Mom remembered how Richie's brother had had diarrhea and vomiting after his shots and so she didn't worry.
That evening while Richie's Mom was giving him a bottle, suddenly he stopped sucking. Then he started to sigh. Alarmed, she called the doctor and described the symptoms and asked him to meet them at the emergency room. The doctor told her it wasnt necessary for him to meet her at the emergency room. The doctor didnt seem worried. Within minutes, Richie died in his mother's arms as his father and six year old brother watched. It had been 33 hours since a doctor had injected him with his first DPT shot.
Fourteen weeks after his death, Richie's parents received the autopsy report findings describing an enlarged thymus gland (the gland that helps regulate the immune response in the body) as well as congestion and edema in the lungs and brain.
Not satisfied with the autopsy findings, Richie's parents made an appointment to talk with the coroner. As soon as they walked into his office, the coroner handed them an article entitled "The Pathologist and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."
But Richie's Mom knew that her baby did not die from SIDS. Armed with the Physician's Desk Reference and studies on DPT vaccine, she described in detail exactly what happened to Richie following his vaccinations. The coroner listened to her and wrote on the death certificate that the cause of Richie's death was "Irreversible shock due to a probable reaction to DPT."
At the time of Richie's death, his parents were concerned that the lot of vaccine he received may have been especially reactive and perhaps should have been investigated. Richies parents worried that other babies might die from the same lot of vaccine that Richie had received. No health official ever contacted the family to find out what happened to Richie. There was never an investigation into this death by the manufacturer, state, county or federal Centers for Disease Control although they were all notified of Richies death. It seemed to Richies parents that no one cared that their baby had died and the government was not worried that other children might be at risk of dying like Richie had.
Richie's family filed a claim with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and in 1989, received official acknowledgment from the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C. that the DPT vaccine caused Richie's death.
A more complete profile describing what happened to Richie and his family can be found in the book A Shot in the Dark by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher.