Chickenpox, for many years, was considered so common and inevitable that it was almost a milestone in a child’s life. In some cases, parents would even throw “chickenpox parties” in an effort to expose their children to the virus early on and get things over with.
However, that hardly means that chickenpox isn’t dangerous. As one mother in England learned, there’s a lot more than just persistent itchiness that this disease can cause. Though her story is quite tragic, it’s also a cautionary tale every parent needs to hear.
In 2016, Bryan-Andrew Lock was a seemingly happy, healthy three-year-old living in the small town of Yeovil, England. His mother, Jasmine Shortland, described him as “such a good little boy… He would melt your heart with his smile. He didn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
Jasmine worked as a bartender at the time, sharing a home with her partner, Josh Wescott. In addition to Bryan-Andrew (left) she also had three other younger sons: Austin, Ivan, and Isaac.
When Bryan-Andrew and Austin contracted chickenpox at the same time, Jasmine wasn’t surprised. However, she knew that Isaac and Ivan could possibly contract it just by being near them, and Jasmine didn’t want to take that risk.
So, on August 10, 2016, Jasmine sent both of her exposed sons, Bryan-Andrew and Austin, to spend the night with their grandmother. That’s when a normal childhood illness took a devastating turn…
Jasmine said Bryan-Andrew was in a good mood when he left for his grandmother’s house: “He was running around. He was happy. He was laughing and joking. I spoke to him on the phone… he told me he loved me and I said, ‘I’ll see you soon and give you cuddles.’”
Yet Jasmine woke up the next morning to her stepfather standing at her door, delivering absolutely nightmarish news. “[He] came to my house and told me Bryan-Andrew had died,” Jasmine explained. “I ran to my mum’s house, I thought, ‘This can’t be right.”
As Jasmine’s stepfather explained, that morning, August 11th, Jasmine’s mother tried to wake Bryan-Andrew up, and discovered that his skin was cold. She called the paramedics right away, but when they tried to use CPR to revive him, their efforts failed.
Jasmine’s first assumption was that Bryan-Andrew had suffered from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Although he was already three and SIDS was an unlikely culprit, Jasmine simply had no other answer for his death – until six months later.
In February, an autopsy revealed the real reason for Bryan-Andrew’s tragic passing: he had been scratching the blisters that were covering his body as a symptom of the chickenpox. This led to a deadly opportunity…
By scratching so much, Bryan-Andrew literally opened up his body to the exposure of bacteria. In his case, that meant group A streptococcus, which is commonly the cause of relatively tame illnesses like ear infections, strep throat, and sinusitis.
The streptococcus bacteria is generally limited to throats, noses, and the surface of the skin, but if it gets underneath the skin, it’s extremely dangerous. In Bryan-Andrew’s case, the streptococcus caused a serious infection.
This infection was known as septicemia, caused by a high amount of bacteria entering the bloodstream. If untreated, it causes sepsis, which is what ultimately ended Bryan-Andrew’s life.
Still heartbroken by the shocking loss of her child, Jasmine could hardly wrap her mind around the results of the autopsy. “I was just shocked,” she claimed. “How can a three-year-old boy catch something that’s so rare? My mind is just so boggled by it.”
Sepsis is often a result of natural bodily responses to dangerous infections. It releases defensive chemicals into the body, inflaming it as a means of treating the harmful bacteria. When this inflammation becomes extreme enough it can become dangerous in its own right.
As a result of her tragic loss, Jasmine has become far more educated on matters of children’s health. “I rush [my children] to the doctors,” she explained. “I am a lot more wary. I wrap them in cotton wool. I’ve got to make sure they’re safe and that nothing is going to happen to them.”
If there was a light in this dark tragedy, it was that the rest of Jasmine’s family became closer. “Since I have lost Bryan-Andrew my attachment to [Austin, Isaac, and Ivan] is so much stronger,” she said. “It has made our relationship [with Josh] stronger. He has been my rock.”
Jasmine also used this unfortunate turn of events as a chance to educate other parents about the dangers of chickenpox. She doesn’t want what happened to her family to happen to someone else. “I am trying to raise more awareness to other moms,” she claimed.
Furthermore, she knows how in the dark other mothers may be. “I think it is important to know what can happen when you least expect it,” she explained. “I thought chickenpox was normal. Every child has it. It is something that can lead to infection.”
It’s also important to note that the varicella vaccine, also known more simply as the chickenpox vaccine, is one of the best tools for preventing something like this from happening. It is up to 90 percent effective in creating an immunity to chickenpox.
As is the case with so many other vaccinations, the risks of giving them to your children are usually quite minor, as compared to the life-threatening risks of choosing not to vaccinate your children. What happened to Jasmine’s family shouldn’t happen to anyone else.
Jasmine could have never predicted what would happen to her son. Hopefully, however, her tragic story can help raise awareness.
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