This story was submitted by Rebecca Estepp:
Our son, Eric, was born in January of 1998. He was a very healthy and strong baby. Eric was very responsive to people. It took only a couple of weeks before he was smiling at strangers at the grocery store.
My husband and I lived very close to a retirement community when Eric was an infant. I remember feeling like I had a celebrity with me when I would stroll him through the stores because we got so much attention. Eric was so smiley and happy that the senior citizens could not resist but to interact with him.
All of that changed after his nine-month vaccination. Eric received his third Hepatitis B shot that day. Within a matter of hours, a horrendous bout of diarrhea started followed by a fever accompanied by screaming fits, which made him arch his back. I called the pediatrician’s office about this illness and was told that Eric most likely picked up a rotavirus that had been going around while at the office earlier that day.
Even though I thought it took longer for symptoms to manifest after being exposed to a virus, I accepted the nurse’s opinion. It took ten days for Eric to shake the diarrhea and fever. After that, he settled into a pattern of chronic illness and infections.
My husband and I were going insane trying to keep Eric well. One day he would develop a sinus infection then he would recover only to be plagued with odd viruses like Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease.
Eric’s health suffered during his toddlerhood. It was an awful time for me. I felt like a complete failure as a mother. I noticed Eric would get very ill a few hours after his regular checkups with the pediatrician. I thought back to the nurse’s explanation of Eric’s first bout with diarrhea. I thought her explanation could have been correct regarding exposure to viruses at the pediatrician’s office. I figured that was trigger. I did not think about vaccine reactions because I thought that would present as an anaphylactic situation where there was troubling breathing or swelling.
Little did I know that the vaccines that were supposed to keep him healthy and strong had damaged Eric’s immune system. Eric’s health kept deteriorating as a toddler. Around fifteen to eighteen months, I noticed that he was not the baby that senior citizens crossed aisles to say hello to. The two words Eric had said had now disappeared. He started to withdraw from people and started being obsessed by strings. Eric would run his hand over any string or cord he could find.
At age two years and nine months, Eric was diagnosed with autism. Looking back, I realize that Eric did not develop autism overnight. His immune system was compromised after the initial vaccine reaction at nine months. After each subsequent round of vaccinations Eric became sicker. His health suffered and his development went off track. Once his development was affected, Eric slipped into autism. After receiving the diagnosis of autism, I asked many experts how Eric developed it. I was told many times that Eric was most likely a different baby from the beginning and that because I was a first time mom, I did not know what typical babies was like.
I never accepted that explanation. I was a babysitter since age nine. I knew what typical babies were like. I knew this because the dozens of babies I sat for. But mostly I knew this because I had a typical baby and then something happened to him.
Lucky for Eric, we live in San Diego. The Autism Research Institute was light years ahead of mainstream medicine. Eric was treated for immune system dysfunction before he turned three. We now have a son that is doing quite well and is healthy. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it.
Eric is about to start high school. He is mainstreamed for part of his school day. Eric has friends. He skis and runs cross-country. Eric has made great progress for a child on the autism spectrum, my husband and I are so proud of him. However it is often hard not to wonder, “what if” from time to time.