March 14, 2010
When Marian Greene’s daughter, Holly Runstrom, 18, fell seriously ill nearly two years ago, there wasn’t a doctor or a test that could tell them what was wrong.”I would sit there literally 20 hours a day, unless we were at the doctor’s office, and research and research,” Greene said.
“I would put in symptoms,” she said. “There was nothing out there.”
Greene, who lives in Boone, went more than a week without answers until an emergency room doctor came up with an explanation—Runstrom was having an adverse reaction to Gardasil, the vaccine made by Merck & Company for the human papillomavirus.
“When we started with Holly there was no information out there,” Greene said.
The site serves as an online support group for girls who have been affected by the vaccine and their families that have witnessed them suffer.
“If there had been a site like this before, Holly wouldn’t have had the shot because I would have had more information,” Greene said.
“We are not some crazy anti-vaccine group,” she said. “It’s just that more research needs to be done, and the truth needs to be put out there on the real side effects.”
Greene hopes that, through victims’ stories, readers will become informed enough to determine if they or a family member might have been affected by Gardasil, she said.
Runstrom’s story, told through her mother’s perspective, is one of 38 accounts on the site.
Runstrom was a high school junior when she received the vaccine. Two days later she experienced severe chest pains and difficultly breathing, Greene said.
As the week went on, her symptoms became worse, and she went to the emergency room.
“Nothing they did helped her,” Greene said.
“They gave her steroids, antibiotics. They kept doing chest X-rays, and that whole entire time we were in and out of the doctor’s office or the emergency room she just kept getting worse and worse.”
“She got to the point where she would sit there and she would try to cry but she didn’t even have the strength to cry,” she said.
Nine days after Runstrom had the shot, she was back in the emergency room. It was then, after a CT scan revealed swelling and inflammation around her heart, that a doctor first acknowledged the connection between her symptoms and the vaccine.
“In the space of nine days she had gone from running six to 10 miles a day, setting state records, to not being able to walk across a room,” Greene said.
Though Runstrom has tried to go back to school for her senior year, a year behind schedule, her condition is unpredictable from day to day.
Two weeks ago she went to the emergency room after losing feeling in the left side of her body and experiencing severe head and chest pains. Green said the doctor told her she may have suffered a mini stroke.
Diane Harper, a doctor in the department of informatic medicine and personalized health at the University of Missouri, said that more needs to be done to inform patients about the risks involved with the vaccine.
“It is highly important that full disclosure to parents and women be provided prior to Gardasil administration,” she said. “This is not happening now.”
Harper worked on the HPV vaccine for 15 years. She helped develop the clinical trial designs to determine if the vaccine would work in humans, she said.
The incidence rate of cervical cancer is seven out of 100,000 women in the U.S., but there is a notable number of patients who receive Gardasil and experience side effects, Harper said.
Village Pediatrics in Chapel Hill no longer administers the vaccine because a patient experienced adverse affects in May 2009, said Jonathan Fowler, the manager of the practice.
Fowler said he used the Web-based Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System to research Gardasil.
“If you do a simple comparison of entries for Gardasil and Menactra, another vaccine we give around the same age, you find that there’s at least four times as many side effects reported for Gardasil compared with Menactra,” Fowler said.
Greene said hopes her Web site will help those who have been injured to make a connection to the vaccine.
“With Holly, from one standpoint, we were very lucky because we knew what was wrong with her. We didn’t have the nights wondering,” she said.
“I couldn’t fix her but at least I knew what was wrong.”