Mia Smith, age 6, was born into a physical world that causes her pain and hinders her behavioral and cognitive development. She was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder before her 2nd birthday. Mia received some initial healthcare that made matters worse though it was seen as therapeutic at the time.
Mia’s mother, Terra Smith, Puzzle Master and Chief Recovery Officer, works with doctors, therapists, and insurance companies to piece together all the care required for Mia’s recovery. The tab, thus far, is over $5 million dollars. Mia’s father, Craig Smith, puts in the work hours to make sure the family has a home, food, and clothing.
One of the primary puzzle pieces Terra deals with is vaccination. Forces of “choice versus no choice” amass on opposite sides of this issue; each attracting advocates who fire policy opinions at the other. Terra discovers that posting an online comment seeking or offering help elicits a stream of insults and accusations that she doesn’t care about Mia or children like her. The Smith family gets ten to twenty emails per year, letters from the state, as well as inquiries from insurance companies about Mia’s lack of immunizations.
Since I co-authored a book on this subject with Terra Smith entitled “Hope Comes In Pieces”, some may see this article as promoting my own business interests. As long as there is an understanding of how that business interest developed, it’s a fair criticism.
To my knowledge, none of my three children were adversely affected by immunizations. My wife and I kept to the requirements and recommendations with few exceptions. Becoming part of the writing process for Terra’s book gave me another perspective on the immunization issue. It took one conversation with Terra to understand that Mia’s vaccine story really pivots on two questions– should Mia have been vaccinated after she was born and should her vaccination regimen of twenty-four shots before age two have continued?
Helping Terra insert those two questions into the contemporary controversy surrounding vaccines and autism may influence this conversation. That’s how my “business” interest came about– to help a family tell their story because it may prompt a pause in a loud and polarizing argument. I also wanted to partner with them to find other entrepreneurial ways to pay for Mia’s care.
Mia was born Oct 2009 after a difficult pregnancy. Craig and Terra barely had time for a photo with her before she was placed into special care. Mia was officially sick at birth. She had jaundice, low oxygen levels of mid-80 percent, and displayed her first allergy after receiving formula. She received hepatitis B treatments and antibiotics during that twelve-day hospital stay.
Guidance from the Center For Disease Control (CDC) points to various “contraindications and precautions” in which vaccines may present a risk if administered. It even advises parents to consider not giving an inoculation under certain circumstances.
Mia continued to be sick. She suffered from recurring fevers and rashes, nine cases of pneumonia, viral infections, allergic reactions to apple juice, antibiotics, and acid reflux medication. Her cognitive and behavioral development regressed. Yet, her vaccinations continued to be administered as recommended. From the time she was born in 2009 to October 2011, Mia received at least twenty-four immunizations, all during a time in which she was sick and under the care of Neo-natal Intensive Care physicians and a pediatrician.
In contrast, my daughter received twenty-one immunizations over eleven years. Even after 24 years of military service including a career in healthcare, six doses of the Anthrax vaccines, and other additional vaccines necessary for deployments, I received only ten more immunizations than Mia.
No doubt, some readers may assert that this article still doesn’t support even an anecdotal connection between vaccines and autism. Okay, but that’s not really the point. In my opinion, the current path of that argument may not be helpful because it seems to detract from these questions: should Mia have been vaccinated initially and should her vaccination regimen of 24 shots before age two have continued? To state it differently, does this particular child need to be vaccinated with this vaccine at this particular moment? Is there a manner of testing a particular child or do we just commit the child to a morbidity risk table and call it good? Actually, these are the recurring conversations Terra and I had when determining how to develop the chapters that describe Mia’s vaccine story.
Terra credits God as responsible for helping Mia progress from an ill child who did not speak or walk, who fell into tantrums for hours, who had problems switching a block from her right hand to her left hand, who broke-out in rashes whose cause could never be resolved, who suffered nine bouts of pneumonia, who didn’t respond to her name, and rarely went outside.
Mia still works her way through many challenges but she is much better today. Terra continues to advocate for special-needs children and their parents. She guides them toward resources for grants and biomedical testing which helps parents understand conditions that may be present alongside autism. Her best advice to moms– “Find a pediatrician who gives weight to your concerns and observations.”
The Kindle edition of Hope Comes In Pieces, by Terra Smith and Alford Hardy, can be ordered online at amazon.com.