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Jacksonville Parents File Claim in Vaccine Court

Jacksonville Parents File Claim in Vaccine Court

By Melissa Ross
Original Source: First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE-- "The cover-up from all this just drives me crazy."

It's a massive cover-up, says Jacksonville mother Cindy Hartman. She's referring to the potentially damaging effects of a preservative once commonly used in childhood vaccinations. That preservative, thimerosal, is 49.6 percent mercury, one of the most toxic substances on the planet.

A substance she says left her five-year-old son Trent neurologically impaired, along with damage to his liver, intestines, and immune system.

"Until we started treatment, he was banging his head against the wall, melting down in the grocery store, hitting himself until he was covered with bruises," she says. "After he received his series of shots at one year of age, he completely stopped functioning."

Trent has made remarkable progress over the last 15 months, by switching to a wheat- and dairy-free diet, taking a wide variety of supplements, and undergoing "ABA," or Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, which is a form of behavior modification that focuses on language and social skills.

"A year ago, he didn't talk at all," his mother says. "Now, he's reading words, doing simple math, counting up to 24."

She pauses to demonstrate Trent's proficiency with flash cards. Trent, a happy, high-spirited child, is excited to practice.

"What's this word?" Hartman asks. "When!" shouts Trent. "Do! Up!"

"Now he's doing phenomenal," Hartman says proudly.

But Hartman, a registered nurse, is outraged she was never informed that the preservative thimerosal, present in most of Trent's routine vaccinations, may have had the potential to harm.

This, after the First Coast News I-Team confirmed in February, the Centers for Disease Control conducted an internal study in 2000 that found a thimerosal-autism connection - findings the CDC kept hidden from the public.

The agency went on to release a study in the November 2003 issue of "Pediatrics" clearing thimerosal of any link to neurological problems in children. The CDC has since been accused by Florida congressman and physician, David Weldon (R-Melbourne), of watering down the data in the earlier study to make the mercury-autism connection disappear.

Additionally, Hartman was diagnosed as RH-negative while pregnant with Trent. She was treated with RhoGAM, which stops the RH-negative mother from creating antibodies to the RH factor in her child's blood.

But the RhoGAM shot Hartman received also contained thimerosal, which Trent received in-utero.

So Hartman, along with 36 other North Florida families, is demanding justice from the government. Although, she says receiving compensation is not her ultimate goal.

"My biggest hope from all this is that babies will be safer," she says.

Her attorney, Alan Pickert of Brown, Terrell, Hogan, concurs. Pickert is filing petitions in The U.S. Court of Federal Claims on behalf of Hartman and his 36 other North Florida clients, all of whom have neurologically impaired children who may have suffered adverse reactions to the mercury in vaccines. Additionally, Pickert says the children were exposed to mercury from JEA's fossil fuel-burning facilities.

"The medical bills these families face are tremendous," he says. "You're talking about formerly healthy children, who start to regress, and who require a lifetime of special treatment and care. These parents, in some cases, have to quit their jobs to care for these kids. So in addition to the medical costs, you've got lost earnings to consider."

Hartman spends her entire salary from her nursing position at Jacksonville's St. Luke's Hospital on Trent's treatment, which also involves visits to a specialist in Wisconsin. The tab is approximately $3,000 a month.

"I'm lucky that my husband's salary pays the rest of the bills," she says. "Other families have it much rougher."

Families seeking to prove their children were injured by vaccines must petition the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Plan before taking their case to state or federal court. The maximum amount of damages the government doles out through Vaccine Court claims is capped at $250,000.

And Pickert says, the statute of limitations on such claims is short. A parent must file within three years of a child's onset of symptoms to be eligible for compensation.

"These parents, while they deserve compensation, are also united in one goal. They want to make sure thimerosal is taken out of vaccines. In other words, learn from my tragedy, before it harms someone else."

Due to the growing controversy in recent years, thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines. However, FDA data shows it is still present in many flu shots, and can be found in small concentrations in the meningococcal vaccine and some DT, Td, and TT shots.

The preservative was used to keep vaccines shipped in multi-dose vials fresh. Shots in individual vials do not need any preservative.

"My clients are not anti-vaccine," he says. "After all, we've all been vaccinated, but the shots you and I got 20 or 30 years ago didn't contain these amounts of thimerosal."

He points out the use of thimerosal began to increase during the late 1980s to make the shipment of vials more convenient - and presumably, more profitable.

On February 9th, leading researchers presented new information on the issue in Washington, D.C. at an Institute of Medicine panel looking into the potential hazards of thimerosal.

Dr. Richard Deth of Northeastern University, one of the featured speakers, had just published with several colleagues a study in the journal "Molecular Psychiatry" that found exposure to heavy metals like mercury can impair neurological development in genetically susceptible children.

"Our work provides a plausible biochemical link between the effects of heavy metals generally, but thimerosal particularly, and the mechanisms in the body and the brain that could account for a role for these metals and thimerosal in developmental disorders, autism being the most prominent," says Deth.

The research also finds an apparent link between exposure to heavy metals and neurotoxins, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control is expected to respond to the findings presented at the IOM panel later this spring. A spokesman for the CDC tells First Coast News the agency plans to undertake an objective review of the data before doing so.

Meantime, Pickert plans to soldier on through the court system. A ruling from Vaccine Court for his clients is expected July 3rd of this year. Depending on the outcome, Pickert tells First Coast News he may go on to sue America's major vaccine manufacturers and local fossil-burning facilities in state court.

"The stress on these families' home life is unimaginable," he says. "We're going to pursue this fully."

"I totally believe in Western modern medicine," adds Cindy Hartman. "I am a nurse, after all. But you know, I see these expectant moms and new moms all the time at the hospital, and they're so concerned about getting the right crib, the right car seat for the baby. They won't even take a Tylenol while they're pregnant. But they take for granted the advice they get from the medical establishment on this issue. I'm saying parents need to ask more questions, do their research."

"Regardless of any money that might come my way, I just want babies to be safe."

Related articles:
- Thimerosal Concerns for Pets
- Mercury & Vaccines: What Parents Need to Know
- CDC Knew of Potential Link between Vaccines, Autism

Created: 3/2/2004 5:07:18 PM