Bradford Family Struggles with Son’s Illness - Olean Times Herald - April 20, 1990

Bradford Family Struggles with Son’s Illness
By: Kate Day
Times Herald Staff Writer and the Associated Press
Olean Times Herald
April 20, 1990

BRADFORD, Pa. - For Bradford couple David and Colleen Nuzzo, no amount of money can replace the health of their 3-year-old son, Andrew, who has had chronic seizures since receiving vaccinations as an infant.

This past week, the Nuzzos were informed that they had been awarded $4.5 million in compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program through the U.S. Claims Court in Washington, D.C.

The Nuzzos' award is believed to be the largest ever given under the national award program.

The award came to the family after working with Chicago, Ill., lawyer Kenneth Moll for close to two years.

Mrs. Nuzzo said they decided to try the case under the compensation program, which was authorized by Congress in 1986 to compensate children crippled by inoculations, or the families of those killed by them.

Claims are paid out of a trust fund, financed by surcharges on DPT, polio and the mumps-measles-rubella vaccines.

The family will use the money for the rehabilitation and care for "Andy," as he is called by his family.

The Nuzzos' story began over three years ago, when Mrs. Nuzzo took Andy to an area doctor for his routine diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus shot, commonly known as DPT inoculation. She declined to name the doctor, as she does not believe physicians should be held responsible.

"We noticed something was wrong after the first shot. He was acting strange," Mrs. Nuzzo said of her then 2-month-old son.

The child was returned for his second shot at the age of 4 months. The family did not realize that he had been having seizures.

When Andy began having severe seizures and staring spells, his family became alarmed and sought immediate medical attention, Mrs. Nuzzo said.

He began his first of many hospital visits at Children's Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.

"It was horrible, it was terrible," Mrs. Nuzzo said of her initial disbelief of her son's illness.

In addition to the Buffalo facility, Andy was later taken to Geisinger Clinic, Danville, Pa.; Pittsburgh Children's Hospital; and the Cleveland Clinic in attempts to stabilize his condition, Mrs. Nuzzo said.

After experimenting with 14 anticonvulscent medications, physicians found two drugs that have helped the child, Mrs. Nuzzo said.

Even with the medications, however, the boy continues to have six different kinds of seizures on a daily basis, she said.

A complication in the situation came when the family moved to Clarion to be closer to Mr. Nuzzo's work as a field representative for a gas and oil supply company.

Andy's care became a round-the-clock ordeal and Mrs. Nuzzo found that she needed her family and friends' support more than ever.

Consequently, the couple decided to move back to Bradford in August with Andy and their 8-year-old daughter, Sara, so they could receive help from Mrs. Nuzzo's sister, Kathy Symington; her father, Harry Hannon; a distant relative, Gina Nuzzo; and a friend, Mary Collela.

"I don't know what I'd do without those people," she said, noting that the helpers will come at a moment's notice when Andy has a seizure.

As light and patterns will set off the boy's seizures, the family keeps the house as dark as possible.

"We have black poster board halfway down every window and his windows (Andy's) are totally black. We dress him in the dark," Mrs. Nuzzo said.

Described as an active, wiry child, Andy can walk but has trouble climbing stairs, his mother said.

"He gets speech and occupational therapy from the Visiting Nurse Association (of McKean County) and he had physical therapy from Easter Seals," Mrs. Nuzzo said.

In addition, the boy is receiving speech therapy from the Intermediate Unit 9 staff, Mrs. Nuzzo said.

As for schooling or training later on, Mrs. Nuzzo said they are not sure how their son will be able to learn, as it "is difficult for him to look at a book" without having seizures.

"I'd sure give it all back (the award) in a minute if he was OK," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates one in every 310,000 DPT vaccinations results in permanent brain damage.