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Did Gardasil Kill Jenny Tetlock?

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Barbara Mellers' daughter, Jenny, 15, passed away in March 2009. Is Gardasil to blame?

Jenny Tetlock
Jenny Tetlock was a 15-year-old girl who lost her battle to a rapidly degenerative neurological disease on March 15, 2009. She started developing symptoms just two months after her final Gardasil injection. Her mom, Barbara, shares her story with momlogic.

ML: What kind of child was Jenny? Please describe your daughter, prior to her getting sick.

Barbara: Jenny was very active. She played soccer for many years. She enjoyed school. She liked English, science, and struggled a bit with math. She had some friends her own age. Jenny was raised essentially as an only child, because her half-brother is 16 years older than she. She hung around with us a lot and learned to enjoy and relate to grown-ups. One of the most charming things about her was how well she could connect with people of many ages.

ML: When and why did Jenny get the Gardasil vaccine?

Barbara: We had come back from a sabbatical year in New York, and Jenny needed a Hepatitis B vaccine to get registered for school. Her pediatrician mentioned this new vaccine. He said it was good, and recommended we give it to Jenny. Without much thought, I agreed, and we started the 3 vaccinations. Jenny was 12 when she received her first vaccine. That was September 2006. The second was in November 2006, and the third was in March 2007. In May 2007, she began to weaken. She died 20 months later.

ML: When did Jenny start showing symptoms or signs that something was wrong?

Barbara: In May 2007, Jenny came home from school one day having tripped over a hurdle in P.E. class. It was 1 and a half feet high. All the other kids cleared it easily. A few days later, she tripped again on the same hurdle and fell on her knee. She hurt it badly, and stayed home for a few days. Then she developed a limp that never went away. With some degenerative neurological diseases, you can lose as much as 40% of your motor neurons before you even begin to show weakness. That may have happened to Jenny.

We thought it would get better, but when it didn't, we went back to her pediatrician. We thought, perhaps her legs were different lengths. But no, the doctor said things were fine and gave her strengthening exercises. A month or two went by and we didn't see any improvement. The pediatrician suggested sports therapy. We went to Children's Hospital in Oakland and started several months of physical therapy in August 2007.

In October 2007, things weren't getting better. She then went to a pediatric neurologist, who started tests. In December 2007, we took her to another specialist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. He immediately started treatment for multifocal motor neuropathy. Jenny received IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin). We went home and followed up with a specialist at UCSF. The treatment wasn't working. She was getting weaker. By that time, she was falling too much and went from crutches to a walker. She started taking steroids. That didn't seem to work either. We still didn't know what the problem was, and we hoped the Philadelphia doctor was correct in his diagnosis. He thought she'd eventually recover in 9-10 months after extensive treatment.

In January 2008, we took Jenny to Children's Hospital in Stanford. The Stanford doctor immediately put her in the hospital to do testing, imaging, biopsies, and more. We stayed there for two weeks, but the treatments didn't seem to help. After being home for a few weeks, we went back for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, Jenny was losing her ability to hold herself up. She tried going back to school with an electric scooter, but it was just too hard. She couldn't even write or take notes. She stayed home with a tutor. We were going to the hospital and seeing many different doctors to figure out what was going on. Jenny started new treatments -- chemotherapy in March 2008. We didn't see any improvement at that point either.

Around April, we noticed that her breathing was compromised. Her FVC (forced vital capacity) was about half of what it should be. Eventually she needed help with breathing, so she went on a noninvasive ventilator. She was also given a feeding tube.

In June/July 2008, we tried to figure out how to adapt with life at home. We had nursing help. Jenny was losing her ability to turn over in bed. I slept with her and turned her whenever she wanted, trying to keep her happy and comfortable. By now, she was in bed most of the time. We had two goals. One was to find a cure, and the other was to maintain her quality of life. We wanted to keep her busy, happy, and distracted. Friends, family, and specialists came by. We had wonderful friends helping us look for other children who were similar to Jenny. We set up a website. We reached out to doctors all over the world to find treatments, experimental drugs, and medications. We tried so many things. Sometimes we thought she was getting better. Maybe the disease was slowing down or even reversing. Then she'd get a little worse, and we knew we were wrong.

In August/September 2008, school started. We got a tutor for her and overnight nursing help. Jenny had physical and occupational therapy several times a week. She was using the noninvasive ventilator around the clock. She also had a computer to help her communicate. We weren't making a lot of progress, although we kept thinking we might be. Christmas was a low point. She felt miserable. There was nausea from the medications and treatments, air in her stomach from the ventilator, and other types of pain. We worked hard to keep her feeling as good as possible.

Her birthday came on January 12th, 2009. At that point, we felt like there was actually some strengthening in her hands. She was getting more control. Then in early March, she started having trouble breathing -- despite the noninvasive ventilator. We took her to the hospital and brought her home. But things got worse. On March 9th, 2009, we took her to UCSF. She was losing her voice and her breath was very labored. She died on March 15th, 2009.

ML: When Jenny passed away, what was believed to be her cause of death?

Barbara: There was always some degree of controversy between those who favored the motor neuron diagnosis (juvenile ALS) and those who thought the disease process was autoimmune in causation. At this point, medical opinion has swung quite decisively toward the autoimmune theory, which is more consistent with the hypothesis that the Gardasil vaccine was the trigger.

ML: How did you link Gardasil to a possible cause of death?

During the Stanford hospital stays, we discussed Jenny's medical history, and initially only a few physicians thought there might be a link. Nonetheless, we filed Jenny's case in a federal database called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) and tried to find comparable girls. The system is outdated, underutilized, and extremely hard to use. Now we have found at least one comparable case that we have been told was filed by Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil. But the information is too vague and incomplete for the CDC to contact the family. To the best of our knowledge, Merck has yet to provide the necessary information. I want to take this opportunity to beg Merck to help our doctors and the government agencies to identify any other cases that might be comparable. I know that Jenny would want us to do everything humanly possible to make sure no other girl ever suffers the pain, humiliation, and misery that she went through in the last two years of her life.

ML: Did anyone from Merck or affiliated with Merck contact you or try to reach you?

Barbara: No. As far as we know, Merck has not responded to requests for information, either from us or from Jenny's doctors. There are two types of information that experts investigating these cases need. First, Merck needs to share widely all information about any other girls with comparable symptoms. Second, Merck needs to answer -- in a transparent and scientific way -- the serious questions that have been raised about batches of vaccines that might be linked to manufacturing problems. There have been reports of bad batches. We have obtained the lot numbers from Jenny's vaccinations and asked how the lot numbers relate to the batches. We have been told that key information that experts need to test hypotheses about bad lots -- key information like how many kids received vaccines from each lot -- is considered proprietary.

ML: Is there a way legally to get them to disclose the information about the lot numbers or bad batches of the vaccine?

Barbara: I don't know, but I hope so. From a humanitarian point of view, Merck should have been much more forthcoming with information that could help the scientists working on this problem. But I see no evidence of it happening. It is a sad state of affairs if our government can't get this important information. It is also ironic, since pharmaceutical companies are protected from lawsuits involving adverse events related to the vaccines. In the 1980s, the government set up a National Vaccine Court, designed to keep pharmaceutical companies investing in vaccinations. Parents pay a surcharge on each vaccine, and that money is used by the National Vaccine Court to pay families who have experienced adverse events that followed the vaccine.

ML: What is being done now in terms of trying to figure out Jenny's cause of

Barbara: Stay tuned. Researchers at major research universities are carefully studying Jenny's case, and those of possible comparables. The evidence should be out in a few months. At least some of the evidence will very likely be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I believe it will soon be much more difficult to deny the evidence linking Gardasil to devastating side effects in a small number of high-vulnerability cases.

ML: Have any families contacted you about their daughters? Or have you found anyone else who went through what Jenny did after taking Gardasil?

Barbara: We found another young lady who has since passed away. Her mom contacted us through our blog. She's Mormon, and had the Gardasil vaccine prior to going on her mission. She came home from her mission early due to weakness, and passed away in August 2008. There are many deeply disturbing similarities, and her case is being investigated by the same researchers.

Then another mom contacted us through the website. Her daughter experienced weakness after the Gardasil vaccine, and the young lady is currently in braces and having a great deal of trouble walking.

I think the story will slowly but surely come together. If any of your readers know of teenage girls or young adolescent girls who have experienced severe weakening or paralysis, please ask them to contact us. Jenny's website can be found by Googling "Jenny's Journey." You can reach us from that site.

ML: Is Gardasil to blame for your daughter's death, in your opinion?

Barbara: Personally, I believe that Gardasil is the most plausible explanation. But it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is that a number of prominent medical scientists at leading universities now believe that Gardasil is the most likely explanation for Jenny's case. The next big question is going to be why Jenny and perhaps a small number of other girls? And why do millions of girls who get the vaccine do just fine? That is a mystery waiting to be solved. Important clues are already starting to come to light. And I will be glad to update you again as the story unfolds.

Is the Gardasil vaccine safe for your daughter? Momlogic's OB/GYN Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz went on NBC's "Today" show this morning to shed more light on the subject.

next: You've Got to Give a Little
69 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous July 29, 2009, 8:24 AM

omg thats aweful

Rosemary Mathis July 29, 2009, 9:40 AM

My 13 year daughter missed almost the entire school year last year because of the Gardasil vaccine. Because of Gardasil, she was one less child, one less student, and possibly could have been one less daughter. She was vaccine injured and is being treated by Wake Forest Medical Center and Duke University Children’s hospital. She was given this vaccine by her pediatrician who highly recommended it. Within 2 weeks after taking the last dose, she was taken down almost completely. She went from being well with no previous illnesses to being sick 97% of the time. She was in this state for around 5 months. The worst part is that doctors do not understand vaccine injuries and when they occur and the injured are pretty much on their own to research and treat the symptoms. The vaccine injury has caused my child to struggle for a year and least important, has also cost thousands of dollars in medical expenses. In my opinion, the benefits do not outweigh the risks and I do not want my daughter to be one less because of this vaccine. Parent should investigate before you vaccinate because there are a lot of sick girls out there who would agree, it is not worth it. The CDC and FDA need to investigate the side effects of vaccines, because basically, the public is own their own in this fight. Our government is not doing their job in this area.

Luci July 29, 2009, 12:41 PM

My heart breaks for this family. I have a 15 yr old daughter right now and I will NOT be giving her that vaccine. I debated it but after reading feel strongly that it’s too risky. I sincerely hope there will be some answers for this tragedy.

thankful for outspoken parents July 29, 2009, 12:54 PM

I cant tell you how sorry i am for the loss of your precious daughter. And i am also thankful for your bravery in speaking out to other parents like me that will spread the word about being cautious about this vaccine. I pray that there will be answers coming to and the other struggling mothers as well. Our government clearly needs to listen to the parents of our country more…this vaccine and others are causing trauma to our families…we need to be listened to and action needs to be taken. Thank you so much again for this article and the knowledge you shared. God bless you and your family.

Anonymous July 29, 2009, 12:57 PM

I feel so lucky to have read this article. My 13 yr old also went for a routine update on her vaccinations and suddenly I have her pediatrician strongly suggest to me this Gardasil. I opted to think about it. I asked him for any literature and all he could hand me was a one page,one sided photocopy from the CDC. Im still not sure, even after looking up information on the net and reading the 1pg “flyer” given to me. I think I will continue to monitor this news and wait and see.
What I didnt like was why do the doctors try very hard to persuade patients to do this if the family has NO history of HPV or cervical cancers??

M July 29, 2009, 1:08 PM

My heart goes out to these families, however we need more than anecdotal information here. Can we please have a pediatrician or OB/Gyn provide a more in depth analysis? Yes, individual reactions to vaccines do occur, however the positive benefit to society has to be considered. Can we have an expert weigh in? (Celebrities need not contribute.)

Camille July 29, 2009, 1:23 PM

Exactly anonymous! I don’t understand why this vaccine was created in the first place. If you take preventative measures like going for your annual exam and practicing safer sex, why this vaccine. My daughter is only 2 and I will never allow them to vaccinate her with Gardisil. Hopefully, by that time, they will have more information about it. This is so tragic and for what? They’re assuming that these young women will become sexually active. What about the ones that get the vaccination and remain abstinent?

MC July 29, 2009, 2:39 PM

I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughters. My reply is directed to a couple of the posters that mention abstinence and no history of HPV in the family. PLEASE, PLEASE for your daughters sake educate yourself about HPV and cervical cancer. It doesn’t matter if your daughter is abstinent, do you not understand that if her partner has had other sexual partners then it doesn’t matter if she is ‘pure as the driven snow’ she can still get HPV. Let me repeat that again. She can still get cancer. Men lie about their sexual history. Just because he tells her she is his first partner that doesn’t make it true. To the other poster having no family history of HPV has nothing to do with it. Educate yourselves.

merry July 29, 2009, 4:28 PM

Camille, I’m not sure why they created the HPV vaccine, but I can tell you that for the Hepatitis B vaccine, the original market was intended for prostitutes and IV drug users because of how easily HepB is passed amongst those populations. But, what they did not foresee is: who was going to pay for those injections? The state? The prostitutes? No way. So then they began doing trials and marketed it for BABIES…and, let’s see who else we can get—oh yeah, anyone who works in a public school setting that runs the risk of coming into contact with kids saliva, and we’ll require school districts to pay for it, so that would be speech therapists, and nurses, and maybe kindergarten and first grade teachers because they sometimes come in contact with kids loose teeth, yeah… and the list goes on. HepB has made a lot of money for the manufacturer, despite the fact that there are many adverse neurological reports associated with that vaccine, too!

So why did they come up with a cervical cancer vaccine? Money.

merry July 29, 2009, 4:33 PM

MC, have you ever watched the Gardasil advertising on TV closely? Listen to how many times they use the word “May” and how the gardasil vaccine does not prevent all forms of… listen carefully.

The reports of girls suffering partial paralysis and neuro damage have been around since the time this vaccine hit the market. This girl’s story up above is not unique. I was reading about these years ago which was why I vowed to myself never to get this vaccine for my daughter. Or my son, for that matter, since I have now read that they are going to start doing trials on using this vaccine with BOYS. No thank you.

Yes I know what cancer is, yes I know the line of thinking about sexual history and how it can still affect anyone even if they have been abstained from sex until marriage. But I also know that vaccines carry a risk of neuro damage and I’m not going to do that to my children for this vaccine. Not when the profits are so high for the company that people like the girl up above become ‘collateral damage’.

Anonymous July 29, 2009, 4:52 PM

My daughter had all 3 shots with no problems at all.

Rosemary Mathis July 29, 2009, 6:10 PM

In reference to the question in the article above regarding lot #s. ML: Is there a way legally to get them to disclose the information about the lot numbers or bad batches of the vaccine?

You are correct in questioning the batches. Simply go to VAERS and pull the data on Gardasil. You can easily determine that the majority of the bad side effects are coming from lots that end in U, then X, and then F. I personally called Merck to try to get data to further analyze the lots vs. batches, etc. and get production data to compare to and they told me that I would have to go through their Legal Department. They told me they would call me back, but to this day, around 8 months later, they have not.

I am so sorry for what Jenny’s family is going through, but please know that you are making a difference in many children’s lives by making parents aware of this awful vaccine.

Renee July 29, 2009, 6:11 PM

My sister (and a few of her friends) had trouble within MINUTES of having a Gardasil injection. My sister passed out in the pediatrician’s office and my mother refused to give her the two other doses. She’s never had a reaction to another vaccine.

ame i. July 29, 2009, 6:26 PM

My older daughter is only 11 so I think I will wait before making a decision on this vac.

Anonymous July 29, 2009, 7:00 PM

this is very sad case an my prayers go out to this her family!!

MC July 29, 2009, 7:36 PM

Hello Merry :) I wasn’t advocating the vaccine as a matter of fact I’m the first one to not want to give my kids ‘new’ vaccines or medicines. I was more trying to point out to the misconceptions some people have about HPV…especially the ones that think just because their daughter is a virgin (or so she says) when she gets married that does not mean she can’t get HPV. It seems they are not giving any thought to the fact that any sexual partners her new husband has been with could have passed the virus on to him and then on to her. I do sincerely hope this vaccine turns out to be everything it is intended to be. I can assure you I had a cone biopsy a few years ago and had a large part of my cervix removed because of HPV. I married at 16 and had never been with anyone else sexually but him. I got HPV while married to him. Even after having been through that I would wait until the vaccine had been out a few years and I had done LOTS of research before she got it. Unfortunately as my Gyno told me.. about 75% of the reproductive age population either has..or carrys the HPV virus. My daughter is 27 and has already tested positive for it so its to late for her but something definitely needs to be done for all the others.

merry July 29, 2009, 8:37 PM

MC, I agree with you that something does need to be done in regards to HPV, but I’m not sure that having a vaccine for everything is the right answer. I, too, have HPV but fortunately (so far) have not had complications in regards to cervical cancer. My concern is that with so many vaccinations being given to children with developing immune systems, or potential for compromised immune systems that have not been discovered, or mitochondrial disorders, that by taking a ‘blanket’ approach to vaccines (i.e. everyone must get X, Y, Z, vaccines at age ___ ), then we are not taking into account these individual variances that would make someone more susceptible to say, the fainting after Gardasil, or potentially in this girl’s case, Guillain-Barre, or other neurological fallout. So long as vaccines continue to be huge money-makers for the companies, and so long as they continue to have government protection, then we will continue to see more and more vaccines developed and I really am concerned about what effect this is having on our children. But Yes, I do agree with you that the prevalence of HPV and the rise in cervical cancer does need to be addressed.

Anonymous July 29, 2009, 9:51 PM

im so sorry for your loss. i thank you for this story. i have a 5 month old girl and was thinking about doing the shots when the time comes, but not now.

Elizabeth B. July 29, 2009, 10:01 PM

Could the Jenny’s disease have been caused by exposure to the vaccine? It’s not outside the realm of possibility, but the information presented as evidence simply isn’t. It’s all about the denominator problem. Some small number of young women each year will die from mysterious illnesses that doctors have no idea how to diagnose. With the large number of girls who are being vaccinated for HPV, some of them will have just gotten a vaccine. A temporal correlation doesn’t mean the vaccine caused the illness. It could, easily, just be bad luck.

When I last did the research, out of more than 12 million doses of distributed vaccine, there had been only slightly more than 7,800 reported adverse events, and the vast majority of those reports to VAERS were for minor conditions, such as injection site pain, which are common to many vaccines. There have been reports of other, more serious, adverse events, but after investigation most of them were found not to be vaccine related. Some are still under investigation.

My heart goes out to Jenny’s friends and family, but right now I’d still rather reduce my future children’s chances of getting cervical cancer, throat cancer, anal cancer, and other HPV related diseases. I’ve gotten two doses of the vaccine myself and am looking forward to the third. It may only protect against 4 of dozens of HPV varieties, but… better that than nothing.

Momof2 July 29, 2009, 10:47 PM

This is a heartbreaking story. I am wondering why they attribute it to the guardasil when it could just as easily be attributed to the Hep B vaccine she received? Heb B is linked to autoimmune dysfuction quite clearly and if this was autoimmune it seems like it could have been either vaccine or even a combo of the two (getting both so close together) that caused her neurological demise.
-mom of 2

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