Testimony of Michelle Clements
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources
U.S. House Government Reform Committee
September 28, 1999

"Compensating Vaccine Injuries: Are Reforms Needed?"

Chairman Mica and Members of the Committee:

I want to thank you for the opportunity to share my life and the life of my child with you.

The day I found out I was pregnant with my second son, Andrew, was a great joy. We couldn’t wait for his entry into this world. It took us three months to pick his name because it was something we wanted him to be proud of throughout his life. "Strong, kingly and manly" is the meaning of his name. On January 31st of 1992, he entered this world a healthy, beautiful baby boy. We wanted the best for him as we did for our other son, Michael.

We don’t allow smoking, drinking or drugs in our home because we want a safe and healthy environment for our children. We took our sons to the doctor for their well care checkups as scheduled and vaccinated them because it was the best way to protect them from life threatening illnesses. We didn’t know about all the adverse reactions that can come with vaccinating our children.

On August 6th of 1992, we were thrown into a world that many experience but few know little about: the horror of what the DPT vaccine can do to some children.

My husband, Scott took seven month old Drew in for his checkup and third DPT shot. I asked my husband to make sure the doctor gave Drew a check-up to see that all was well with him before he got his shots. I called Scott from work after the doctors’ appointment to find out how Drew was doing. My husband explained that Drew had been sleeping since his shots and I thought - good - because after Drew’s second DPT shot he had cried for a very long time.

When I got home from work, Scott told me that Drew had been sleeping most of the day and was still sleeping. Scott went to work and I woke up Drew so he could eat but he went back to sleep again. When Scott got home from work later that night, he was passing by our boys’ room and heard a strange, rasping sound coming from the room. He checked on Mike, who was fine, and then realized that the sound must have come from Andrews’ crib.

When he got to Andrews’ crib he had the shock of his life. Our little boy wasn’t breathing and he was as pale as a China doll. Scott yelled for me to come and asked me WHAT IS THIS? All I saw was my baby laying in his father’s arms as limp as a rag doll and as white as a China doll. I ran downstairs and grabbed the phone and dialed 911 but I was in such shock that I forgot my address and street name.

Scott followed me and handed me Andrew and I realized for the first time that my baby wasn’t breathing. I did CPR on him and after the second breath I gave him, he took in a deep breath himself. The color came back into him and he appeared to be sleeping.

The Fire Department came. Half of the men worked on Drew while the other half followed me to the boys’ room. I showed them Andrew’s crib and the puddle of fluids we found him lying in. One firefighter told us that he believed that Drew had had a convulsion. He said Drew was very warm and asked for some ice bags to cool him down. They told us Andrew would have to go to the hospital.

Andrew was transported to the hospital in an ambulance and by the time he got to the hospital he was in the middle of another violent convulsion that was so bad they wouldn’t let me in the room with him. Finally he stopped convulsing and the doctors explained that this may be the only time he convulses and it may never happen again.

One month later, he was crawling on the floor when all of a sudden he collapsed and began to jerk his arms and legs while his head went backwards and his neck stiffened. I grabbed him and told Scott to call 911 and at the hospital they explained to us again that sometimes children have seizures and they grow out of them.

Between the ages of 6 months and three and a half years old, Andrew had 84 seizures, the shortest being 15 minutes and the longest being one and a half hours. Almost always, Andrew would run an unexplained fever with the seizures even though he wasn’t sick. One doctor told me the fevers he ran with his seizures was because his body thermostat had been damaged and his body could not regulate his temperature like it should. Still, with all those seizures, the miracle was that Andrew learned to walk and talk. At three, he could count up to 20 and he knew his colors and shapes. We had learned to live with his seizures even though we always lived in fear that one day he would have a really long seizure that would damage our bright, loving, intelligent little boy.

On the night of September 8th of 1995 our worst nightmare came to life when Andrew went into a seizure that lasted four and a half hours. Standing by helplessly as our son seized for four and a half hours while his temperature climbed to 108.8 degrees is an experience no parent should have to go through. When Andrew finally stopped seizing and we were allowed to see him in the ICU, to our horror we saw a child double the size he was when he came into the hospital. When we asked what happened, they took us out of his room. At 7 a.m. in the morning, a doctor told us that Andrew’s kidneys and liver were failing.

When we finally got to see our son again, he looked like another child. We couldn’t hold him because he had a dozen tubes hanging off him. A special bed rotated his body, keeping his body at one temperature and massaging him at the same time.

At 9 a.m., we were told by the doctor - and I will never forget those words - we were told: "YOUR SON IS DYING AND - SO THAT YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING - HE WILL DIE BEFORE 12 PM TODAY. If you want to see him alive, you better call anyone who wants to see him now. Here is a phone you can use. Are you OK? Mrs. Clements, are you all right?"

Not knowing what to say, I said "NO, not my baby over and over again. He didn’t go through 84 seizures to die. God has a great use for his life. He didn’t bring him through all these seizures to die now."

Every organ in Andrew’s body was damaged and was functioning at only 10 percent. Andrew didn’t die that day as the doctors said he would. By the grace of God, he hung on to life. On September 11, Andrew slipped into a coma.

Andrew was in the hospital for four months while we waited for him to come out of his coma. During that time, I called our lawyer, Victor Harding, to tell him what had happened. Mr. Harding was representing Andrew in the U.S. Court of Claims which hears vaccine injury compensation cases and he told us that the government had offered us $350,000 to take care of Andrew.

All I could think of was how unfair it was. My son is fighting for his life. He may die. If he lives, we don’t know what kind of condition he will be in. And the government is telling us that all Andrew is worth - if he lives - is $350,000? That amount isn’t going to begin to be enough to care for a severely brain injured child for the rest of his life. I told our lawyer: "You can tell those government lawyers where they can file that offer."

As you can see, Andrew did live. He fought bravely to live. Andrew is a hero. And now it is my job as his mother to fight for him to have the best kind of life that I can give him.

Andrew can’t walk or talk. He can’t can’t eat or drink. He has to be fed through a tube in his stomach. Sometimes we give him tiny tastes of food. I will put a drop of apple sauce or pudding on the tip of my finger and put it on his tongue but it can’t be too much or he could choke because he can’t swallow. His body is seven years old but his brain is like a 3 month old.

I was a good parent. I did what the government and the doctors told me to do and I gave my son the DPT vaccine. And now he is crippled. His life has been sacrificed. And instead of being treated kindly and fairly by the government’s vaccine injury compensation program, we have been treated unkindly and unfairly.

You may be wondering how we found out about the vaccine compensation program. It wasn’t from anyone in the medical field. We found out from a stranger who had heard about what happened to Drew. Her son died from the DPT vaccination. She referred us to a lawyer and sent us information about the DPT vaccine.

Reading the information, I felt like I had just been transported into another world: a world that I didn’t believe could exist in our country where the government keeps such information from us that could help us protect our children from becoming retarded. I didn’t know that when Andrew screamed for hours after his second DPT shot at four months that it was a warning sign that the shot might not be good for him. I didn’t know that in 1992 there was a safer DPT shot called DtaP vaccine that causes fewer reactions. I wish Andrew had had a chance to get the DtaP vaccine instead of DPT.

When we met with our lawyer, Victor Harding, he told us about applying to the vaccine injury compensation program and what to expect from the government. He said that a lot of children like Andrew are denied compensation or offered so little money that it wouldn’t be enough to take care of him for the rest of his life. Like I said earlier, when my son was on what we thought was his death bed, the government offered us $350,000. We turned it down and proceeded to the next step.

We had to fly to Washington, D.C. for our compensation claim hearing in the winter of 1998. My stomach was full of butterflies when I gave my testimony about what happened to Andrew on the night of August 6th 1992. I stayed for five hours of the 10 hour hearing and then went back home to care for my son. My lawyer was there for the second half of the hearing on the following day.

In the end, the government turned Andrew down for compensation. There would be no money to help us care for our son. The Special Master told us that if we had applied for compensation a year earlier, she would have found in our favor but because of the TABLE CHANGE there was nothing she could do but find in favor of the government.

That angered me and still does anger me that this Table can be changed by the government after Congress put the Table in the law to help children like Andrew get compensation. That Table change sure wasn’t for the betterment of the families who go through horrific life changes due to vaccine injuries. The government forces us to give our children these vaccines and then when something goes wrong - too bad- you are on your own.

The Special Master told us to appeal but where is the logic in doing that if the rules are still the same? We will take our chances with the vaccine manufacturer in court.

Because if we don’t, what is going to happen to Andrew? The doctors told us Andrew could live to be 25 or even 40 years old. We want to care for him as long as we can. We don’t want him to be put in an institution where they won’t do for him like we can do for him. To care for him the right way, our home needs to be wheelchair accessible and we need a lift to get him into a van and we need to be able to afford to buy all the medications and supplies he needs after he turns 18 years old. We just want enough money to care for him the right way because no amount of money could ever really compensate Andrew or us for what the DPT shot took from him.

Thank you again for listening to what happened to my son and our family. God bless you.