Tetanus  Flu Encephalitis

Valley Mom Blames Vaccines For Illness
Melissa Ellingson Recovering From Encephalitis
October 12, 2009
Phoenix resident Melissa Ellingson said tetanus and flu shots she received this summer nearly cost her her life.

“I couldn't talk. I couldn't walk. I couldn't feel my whole body. It was like I had an epidural of something,” Ellingson said.

She developed encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, about a month after the two vaccines.

At one point, she was so sick she couldn’t swallow and had to have a feeding tube inserted into her throat, she said.

“All of my symptoms matched as if I would have been affected by a flu shot or a vaccine,” she said.

Dr. Geoffrey Radoff said it is possible Ellison experienced an extremely rare side effect of the vaccines.

"What she had was extraordinarily unusual and rare,” he said. “For reasons that are unknown, we get autoimmune reactions from the vaccine.”

Radoff said only a tiny percentage of all patients who receive vaccines react badly, usually experiencing redness or swelling around the site of the injection. He said even fewer patients become as ill as Ellingson.

Radoff also said Ellingson’s experience should not dissuade people from getting shots.

"Vaccines wiped out smallpox. There's no smallpox. And certainly polio isn't as common now as it was. Vaccines certainly have their place,” he said.

After spending close to one month in intensive care, Ellingson is home recovering.

She said her bout with encephalitis has left her both tired and weak.

To recover, she is going to physical therapy three times a week and taking steroids to stop her immune system from attacking itself.

She said she is still shocked that vaccines aimed at keeping her healthy could have cost her her life.

"I thought I wasn't going to come out of it,” she said.