A mother from Pickardville, Alta. wishes she could go back in time and vaccinate her daughter against rotavirus, after the virus nearly killed her.
Charlene Curtis said her youngest daughter, Arianna, was a healthy baby.
“She was just a very bright, engaging child. She was always trying to dress herself and play peek-a-boo.”
But in March 2014, 14-month-old Arianna started having intense diarrhea. Curtis took her to the pediatrician the next morning, just 10 hours later.
“By the time we got there, it was already too late. He called the paramedics immediately. She suffered a cardiac episode in the paramedics’ arms.”
Paramedics performed CPR on the toddler for 20 minutes and brought her back to life. But then she had another heart attack and fell unconscious for another 15 minutes.
Eventually, Arianna was resuscitated but she was in rough shape.
“She was fully supported. Like life support, breathing tube, the whole nine yards. She was just this tiny little body enveloped in so much medical equipment you could barely even see her.”
The little girl fell into a coma for two weeks. When she woke up, doctors had diagnosed her with rotavirus.
The illness causes fever, vomiting and diarrhea. According to Alberta Health Services, 95 per cent of kids in the province get the virus before they turn six.
Arianna’s doctor had recommended the vaccine two months earlier, but at the time it was not covered by Alberta health care.
“I was on a very limited income and it cost basically my grocery fund for the month. And I figured, how bad can it be? I’ve never heard of it before,” Curtis said.
One year later, Alberta Health added rotavirus to the provincial vaccine schedule. It is free and is supposed to be administered in three doses — at two months, four months and six months.
It was too late for Arianna – the virus nearly killed her. At the age of five, she cannot talk, walk, eat normally or even hold up her own head.
“The doctors told me basically that I should prepare myself. That she probably wasn’t going to make it through the night. If she did it would be a miracle. But she did.”
Still, her life was forever changed.
“My little girl died and she’s gone forever. They sat me down in the pediatric intensive care unit. The doctors told me to mourn her,” she said. “I needed to learn and love and accept this new daughter that life had given me – and that’s exactly it,” Curtis said.
To this day, Curtis wishes she would’ve listened to the doctor.
“I should’ve got the vaccine. Why didn’t I get the vaccine? Immediately I went into self blame,” she said. “Why didn’t I call the ambulance?”
Her message to other parents is clear.
“Don’t pass on this vaccine. It’s very important.”
Arianna uses a wheelchair because she lacks motor functions.
Right now, her grandparents use an old van to drive her and Curtis to countless medical appointments in Edmonton.
“We are trying to raise money to get an adaptive van,” Curtis said. “They have a very old van, so it’s not in the best shape. And I have to lift her into the van and it’s quite high.”
In addition to lifting Arianna – a task that gets more cumbersome as she grows – the wheelchair also has to be put in the trunk.
A Gofundme has been started to help the family buy a van and add the wheelchair lift – an estimated cost of about $45,000.
For more information on vaccination recommendations for infants and children, visit the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website.