Parents PACK Personal Stories – Pneumococcus

The following article tells the story of a woman whose husband passed away because of a pneumococcal infection. He did not know there was a vaccine that he should have received because he was in a high-risk group.

Pneumococcal vaccine for people without a healthy spleen

By: Martha Sands-Duff

My name is Martha Sands-Duff. My husband, Kenneth was a 47-year-old healthy male, weighing 235 pounds on July 10, 2007.

We had just completed the 4th of July holiday weekend when my husband and I placed concrete barriers in our yard. My husband worked very hard to get this task completed; however, he was not sick or feeling bad in any way.

On Monday, July 9, 2007, Kenneth went to work, came home, ate barbecue, and we had normal evening like every other after work.

During the night, my husband awoke violently ill. He had the chills that made his teeth chatter. I turned off the air conditioner and tried to warm him as best I could. My husband then became nauseated and vomited; he then had a fever.

When morning came, we called his doctor and went to the emergency room. My husband was admitted to the hospital on July 10, 2007; he never left the hospital.

We were told by the infectious disease control doctor that because my husband didn't have a spleen, he should have been getting a vaccine against bacteria that could invade his body. No one ever told us this. My husband lost his spleen 30 years earlier when there wasn't a vaccine against this bacterium.

My husband was a healthy male who got annual examinations, like prostate and physicals. He even had a colonoscopy when he was recommended to.

The doctors administered antibiotics to try to kill the bacteria, and I hoped and prayed every day that my husband could survive this illness. The doctors never gave me any false hope, however, and they would always say "if he survives."

My husband was admitted on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, his skin appeared to be burned and the muscles in his arms and legs started to blister. The doctors explained that my husband was septic from the bacteria which had invaded his blood system. After the blisters, my husband's hands and feet started to lose circulation. His hands started to turn black and his feet began to look dried up. He was on dialysis every day, his liver failed and he could not breathe on his own. Eventually his bowels stopped functioning. My husband was a really nice guy who deserved to have the knowledge needed to save his life; however, it was not provided to us. We had never seen advertising like you see for flu shots or immunizations; we just didn't know that something as simple as a vaccine could have saved his life.

I've read so much information regarding pneumococcal/streptococcal bacteria since that time. It was indicated that an individual who survived this deadly disease could possibly be a quadruple amputee and have hearing loss as well.

As a result of not getting the vaccine against this deadly bacterium, my husband died on August 5, 2007. I continue to be devastated by my loss; it is all so unbelievable to me.

I am writing this article in hopes that others who read this and don't have a spleen, have a spleen that doesn't function properly, or are aware of someone who doesn't have a spleen contact their healthcare professional and obtain the vaccine that could possibly save their life or the life of someone they know or love.

Editor's note:

In addition to people who do not have a spleen or have a spleen that does not function properly, the following groups of people are recommended to get a pneumococcal vaccine because they are at increased risk of disease:

  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • People with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, lung disease (including asthma), diabetes, alcoholism, or chronic liver disease (cirrhosis)
  • People with Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, kidney disease, cochlear implants, or cerebrospinal fluid leaks
  • People undergoing chemotherapy
  • People infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • People living in high-risk environments or social settings, such as nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • People who smoke

Learn more about pneumococcus and the pneumococcal vaccine.

Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on May 26, 2020

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

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