According to Buetow’s records, it was on Oct. 8, 2011, when she received her immunization shot at work. In January 2012, about three months after getting the shot, Buetow said she began feeling strange pains in her legs and back. She made an appointment to see a doctor on Feb. 10, 2012, with complaints of severe backaches and sensitive-to-the-touch pain in her legs all the way down into her feet.
“It was excruciating pain. It was horrible,” she said. “It felt like I was being cut with a knife, stung by bees or beaten with a belt. Dr. William Stansbery gave me two kinds of medicines.”
While taking her prescribed medicines, Buetow was also visiting a massage therapist for extra treatment on her legs and was feeling some relief by the weekend. But that was short-lived.
“My husband, David, and I got up on Sunday morning about 6 a.m. and I felt fine,” Buetow said. “But around 10 a.m. I told my husband that my legs were starting to tingle — feeling like they were falling asleep. I thought the feeling would go away and it never did. As the day went along the feeling got worse and I could hardly walk by the end of the night. At 3:30 a.m., Monday morning, I got up to go to the bathroom and could hardly walk.”
With the normal sensations of her body changing rapidly, Buetow said, “I told my daughter, April, call 911, call your daddy (who was at work). Get me to the hospital. I don’t care what you have to do, I need to go now!”
As her daughter and stepdaughter, Christy Dodson, were carrying her out of the house and into the car, Buetow said her feet were going out from underneath her and “backwards.”
“They rushed me to SkyRidge [Medical Center’s] emergency room and I was taken back immediately,” she said.
The nurses and doctors started several test, including blood work, an MRI and a CAT Scan, according to Buetow.
Throughout the rest of the time I was there they did three more MRIs and a spinal tap. Later on that afternoon they took me into ICU. During this time the doctors asked me if I had had a sore throat during the winter months, if I had taken the flu shot and if I had been around anyone with the flu. My response to the questions was, ‘Yes.’”
Her final diagnosis at SkyRidge was that Buetow has transverse myelities (TM) with cauda equina syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says transverse myelitis is “the sudden onset of spinal cord disease. Symptoms include general back pain followed by weakness in the feet and legs that moves upward. There is no cure and many patients are left with permanent disabilities or paralysis.”
When Buetow left SkyRidge, her discharge summary said, “She could move the right extremity some, but not the left. Reflexes were absent.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons describes cauda equine syndrome as “A rare disorder affecting the bundle of nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord. If patients with cauda equina syndrome do not get fast treatment to relieve the pressure, it can result in permanent paralysis, impaired bladder and/or bowel control, loss of sexual sensation and other problems. Even with immediate treatment, some patients may not recover complete function.”
“The doctors told me it was going to go up into my lungs and chest and they were going to make me comfortable,” Buetow recalled. “It did not go into my lungs due to it stopping at my waist. They started me on steroids. During the middle of the night, on Feb. 14, I was removed from ICU and put into a regular room. On Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, I was taken by ambulance down to Siskin Hospital [for Physical Rehabilitation] in Chattanooga in the afternoon. I stayed at Siskin for therapy from Feb. 17 to March 9, 2012. While in therapy I had to learn how to use everything below my waist and learn how to walk again due to being paralyzed from the waist down. My mom came from Oklahoma to take care of me for a month, which was a blessing.”
After being released, Buetow said she started working out at Siskin in Cleveland three days a week, along with seeing her doctor once a month.
“Then I had therapy done at my house for about three to four weeks. Now, I work out at Workout Anytime on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on my own,” she said. “I was the kind of person who never stopped. I drove a standup forklift and an 8-foot runner for my company in Charleston. I took the shot on Oct. 8, 2011, and on Feb. 12, 2012, I was in ICU. Except for two years ago when I was out for two weeks, I have had perfect attendance. I never called in to work, never missed a day and averaged 72 hours a week. I was in good health before I took that shot. But there was such a long period between the shot and the reaction that no attorney would take my case.”
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The pathogenesis of transverse myelitis is mostly of an autoimmune nature, triggered by various environmental factors, including vaccination. In most of these reported cases the temporal association was between several days and three months, although a longer time frame of up to several years was also suggested. Although vaccines harbor a major contribution to public health in the modern era, in rare cases they may be associated with autoimmune phenomena such as transverse myelitis.”
Buetow added that she had also signed a waiver when she agreed to taking the shot and presented a copy of her 2011 Immunization Consent Form which stated in part: “I understand that serious injury or death can result from any vaccination and in consideration of receiving the vaccination(s), voluntarily assume the risk of and accept full liability for any and all injuries and death which may occur as a result of my vaccination(s) and request that the vaccine(s) be given to me.”
Having released everyone associated with the vaccine and given the time lapse between the shot and her condition, Buetow had no legal recourse. Still, she is convinced that her sudden condition is linked to her decision to get immunized for the flu.
“Now I’m limited,” she said. “And when it rains it still hurts so bad. This thing starts in your feet and it goes up your body into your lungs and chest and it settles there. It can kill you. People need to be aware of what flu shots can do to people. They should think twice about getting it even if they get it. Do your research. Be careful. My husband told me several times to stop taking those flu shots. I should have listened to him. Technically, I should be in a wheelchair but because I was so determined to go back to work, the doctors said that is why I am doing as well as I am — my determination.”
While some sources say vaccinations, in addition to viral and bacterial infections, have been found to trigger transverse myelitis, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said, “Researchers are uncertain of the exact causes of transverse myelitis. The inflammation that causes such extensive damage to nerve fibers of the spinal cord may result from viral infections or abnormal immune reactions.”
Buetow said her only compensation comes from the fact she can remind others that there are risks to taking vaccines and to read the fine print before signing anything.
About 1,400 new cases of TM are diagnosed each year. The disease can affect people of all ages. At its worst point, 50 percent of individuals have lost all movement of their legs, 80 to 94 percent experience numbness, and almost all have some degree of bladder dysfunction.
Although she was named Employee of the Month for January 2012, Buetow said she had to file for Social Security disability on Aug. 16, 2012, and was approved for long-term disability.
Married 24 years, with one daughter, three stepdaughters, one stepson, three granddaughters and two great-grandsons, Buetow said her concern reaches beyond her family to all families interested in protecting the health of their community. She said her goal is to raise awareness about the potential dangers of immunization shots and encourage more discussion on the subject in the hope that people educate themselves about a danger she did not see coming, but in retrospect, could have.
The most common autoimmune disease associated with immunization shots is called Guillain–Barré syndrome, or GBS, which affects the nervous system and causes paralysis, similar to transverse myelitis.
Regarding any possible link between flu shots and Guillain–Barré syndrome, the CDC stated, “If there is a risk of GBS from current flu vaccines, it would be no more than 1 or 2 cases per million people vaccinated. This is much lower than the risk of severe influenza, which can be prevented by vaccination.”