'I was able to be with my sister:' Why This Pediatrician Received a Second MMR.
A pediatrician recounts how measles would have impacted her family’s life
In the summer of 1990 I was about to turn 17 and preparing for my senior year of high school. I was enrolled in Drivers Ed and thinking about which colleges I should apply. All normal events in any teenage life. Except that summer, my 22-year old sister was trying to recover from her bone marrow transplant as treatment for Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
It was also during this time that measles showed up in Texas and when I received my second MMR.
My sister had been in San Antonio with my mother for two months receiving care at a Bone Marrow Transplant center. While she had no memory of her twenty-third birthday, I saw pictures of the nurses and doctors surrounding her with a cake.
Later when she returned home, she commented on this nice shirt she had found in her suitcase as she had not seen it previously. I did not have the heart to tell her that it had been a gift from me for her birthday, she just had been so ill she did not remember.
As the number of measles cases in Texas were climbing, her doctors became fairly insistent that I receive a second MMR. They really didn’t want me to be around her without being protected.
Some may feel that wasn’t their decision to make. However, those doctors were not only scientifically correct but they cared deeply for my family. They knew me well enough to know that if I gave anything to my sister that would have hurt her, I likely would have never recovered from that guilt.
While measles can harm anyone, it likely would have been a death sentence for my sister. Initially, my mother was concerned about any possibility of me developing measles after the vaccine and giving it to my sister. The doctors reassured her and said the only way to protect her was to protect me. My mom had to make so many difficult decisions that year. Sometimes she did what the physicians recommended and sometimes not. Her goal everyday was to advocate and protect her daughter. So I was vaccinated based on the new two dose MMR policy.
Then I was able to be with my sister. I was with her when they told her that cancer returned. I was there to watch my platelets infuse into her weak body. I was there on the morning she died. Holding her hand. It would have been too risky during the measles outbreak for me to be around her that summer if I had not received that vaccine. While I grieve the loss of her beautiful mind and spirit still after almost 30 years, I realize that experience inspired me to enter medicine and advocate for children.
It is so unfortunate that the discussion around vaccination has become so volatile. Like my mom, parents are just trying to make the best and safest decisions for their children. They have to navigate a much more complex world of information available to them. At my clinic, we spend a good amount of time discussing questions and concerns regarding vaccines. While I try to work with families and guide them, in the final discussion, vaccinating children is the healthiest choice for them. Not just for their own disease prevention but for all of those who cannot receive certain vaccines through age or medical condition.
Honestly, I was a bit nervous writing this realizing potential backlash from those not agreeing with vaccinations. Yet as I was looking through my closet the other day, I saw that shirt I gave my sister. It made me smile remembering her wearing it and it reminded me of how all of us had to be brave in different ways that year. In her memory, I will continue to try and be brave.
Vaccinate. It saves lives.
Get to know Kathleen Powderly, M.D.
Kathleen Powderly, M.D., has been a pediatrician with Cook Children’s for 15 years. She is currently a pediatrician at Cook Children's Magnolia Office and a hospitalist at Cook Children’s Medical Center. She served as co-medical director of inpatient pediatrics for the last five years. She feels privileged to have cared for children and families in the Fort Worth community for her entire career. Listening to parents and collaborating with them in the development and health of their children is essential to her practice. Her specific interests include asthma and allergies, newborn care, medically complex issues, and emotional issues/behavior.
Outside of work, Dr. Powderly is married and the mother of a busy teenage boy. To make an appointment with Dr. Powderly, click here or call 817-985-3147.