Stuff | 14 Nov 2016
“Isn’t it crazy that life can be one thing – and in an instant it can be changed forever,” a Timaru teenager blogged at the end of last year.
Since then she has come to the conclusion that it was no coincidence she fell acutely ill after getting the HPV vaccine.
Olivia, 16, cannot prove her belief is correct, despite going through 14 months of hell.
A week after being vaccinated in July 2014 she become allergic to various foods. Then fatigue and breathing difficulties set in.
Over the Christmas holidays she struggled to walk up stairs.
“Following this I got shingles, had poor vision and was dizzy every time I sat up. So basically, I spent those summer holidays in bed.”
Back at school in February, Olivia had a breathing episode and her legs failed to hold her weight. She was taken to Timaru Hospital but no diagnosis was forthcoming.
“Not being diagnosed was the worst part. At this stage I thought I may never walk again.”
For the next eight months she was in a wheelchair, as her legs were constantly tingling and all purple and blotchy-looking.
Then her heart was affected and she kept blacking out, leading to a cardiologist sending her to Auckland’s Starship Hospital.
Finally she was diagnosed with an autonomic nervous disorder. After a week of treatment she spent two months at the Wilson Rehabilitation Centre, also in Auckland.
Research on the internet led her to other girls around the world displaying the same or similar symptoms. They all had one thing in common – Gardasil.
Whether the vaccine triggered the problems or caused them is not proven. One of the doctors Olivia saw thought an existing ankle injury may have made her susceptible to a trigger from the vaccine because of the stress already on her system.
“I don’t know why the vaccination was fast-tracked. Why was there such a rush?” she questioned.
Another concern for her was that the vaccine’s effect on fertility had not been questioned, as it was being administered to such young girls.
“They are at a crucial stage of development.”
Olivia was too sick to attend her appointments for the two follow-up HPV doses.
“I’m really thankful I didn’t get the others,” she said.
Being optimistic and practising mindfulness and yoga for the pain has helped her cope through her darkest days. She says she has come out of the experience more mature.
“Writing the blog helped. I wanted people to know they can get through anything. The way you think about things is what matters.”
It has also redirected her proposed career path, from commerce to wanting to work in health and help others.
On Thursday she managed a two-hour session at school for the first time since falling ill. Up till now she has been lucky to manage an hour.
“I don’t have sleeps in the afternoon now. I’m doing body balance and building up my muscles. I’m stretching, swimming and doing physio.”
Meeting Auckland girl Kate, who was at a different stage of illness, helped both of them.
“She was still in a wheelchair and I think seeing me further down the track gave her hope.”
Olivia is now a vegan and said she will never take her legs for granted again. She just hopes the New Zealand government will either withdraw or investigate the vaccine, as some other countries have done.