We’re in the middle of a measles scare right now, with over 100 documented cases all over the country – most of them tracing back to exposure in California’s Disneyland.
The outbreak has sparked a heated debate over vaccines, and the danger of highly contagious childhood illnesses. For most people, this will thankfully remain a theoretical discussion – but for Sam and Rebecca Flint, it’s a very personal topic. Their daughter Sarah had measles as a little girl, despite being vaccinated, and it was a terrifying time for their young family.
“It was April 1981, I was a grad student at University of Chicago,” recalled Sam Flint. Sarah was three years old, and for several days, she had a fever, and was lethargic.
Flint’s wife, Rebecca took Sarah to the doctor, not expecting anything too bad. “And then he came back and told me she had the measles, and asked if it was okay for the rest of the pediatric staff and the residents to see her – most of them had never seen measles before,” she said.
The Flints were shocked at their daughter’s diagnosis, since Sarah had gotten the measles vaccine at the age of 12 months. “She had gotten the immunization at 12 months, rather than 15 months, since we were going to a family event in Rhode Island, and were told there was a measles outbreak there, so we talked to the doctor he said ‘better do it now,'” said Rebecca Flint.
“And you think about it in 1981, they had refined the vaccine to a point where you got better protection at 15 months,” added Sam Flint. “They had figured that out, it speaks to the science and accuracy of this.”
For several days after her diagnosis, Sarah had high fevers, a rash, and slept all the time. At the same time, Rebecca Flint also became very ill.
Sam Flint said he felt very stressed and overwhelmed. “Mom had mono, and was sick as a dog, so Sarah was in one room, mom was in the other room, and I was in the other, saying O.M.G., my family is a disaster area.”
Rebecca Flint was also very worried about the potential lasting impact of the measles. “I was nervous because as a social worker, I had seen young children who were deaf as a result of the measles, and Sarah was prone to very high fevers, which can bring on deafness, so we were monitoring her closely.”
Daughter Sarah Graden doesn’t have many memories of her illness. “I remember a bunch of people in white coats smiling at me and wanting to ask me questions – I think I liked the attention,” she said.
Sam Flint most vividly remembers his own feelings of helplessness. “There is so little a parent can do when a child contracts this illness, all we could do is control the fever.” He said Sarah didn’t want to take her fever medicine, and she would get mad at him. “I forced her to take it, and she cried, and then I closed to door, went into the other room, and let it all out. It was awful. It was bad.”