Jesse Lee was a happy boy with lots of friends, who liked making people laugh. He was a caring, loving kid who wouldn’t hurt anyone or anything.
On a Monday in August, Jesse came home from school with a bad headache. It seemed like a migraine. He didn’t have a fever, but felt horrible. He started throwing up that night and continued through the next day. Tuesday he rested as best he could and I watched his fluid intake, keeping him as comfortable as possible. I even slept in his room with him.
On Wednesday, he wasn’t getting any better so we took him to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics. Later that day, we saw that Jesse had spots on his chest and belly. It turned out to be chickenpox! At this point, he had managed to eat and drink a bit. But by Thursday, he was dry retching and in really bad shape.
We took him back to the doctor and they sent us immediately to the local hospital. We could see it was getting harder for Jesse to breathe and he was struggling for air. The hospital gave him oxygen, and x-rayed his chest. That‘s when they discovered he had a bad case of pneumonia.
The local hospital decided that he needed treatment beyond what they could give him. That same evening they sent him to a different hospital. They put him on 100% oxygen because his breathing was so labored. But the second hospital couldn’t treat him either. Seeing him exhausted just from trying to breathe, the medical team decided it would be best to put Jesse into an induced coma so he could be transferred, along with the specialist respiratory team, to yet another hospital.
They gave us one last chance to talk to him while he was still conscious. We were afraid we were saying goodbye, not knowing whether or not he would ever wake up. Jesse asked my husband if he was going to die. Paul managed to say “no, mate, we’ll see you when you wake up.”
At the last hospital, he went straight to the ICU. That made three hospitals in less than 48 hours. While in a coma, the doctors fought for Jesse’s life. They gave him several kinds of drugs, and hooked him up to every kind of tube known to man.
He was covered in chickenpox lesions at this point. They covered his entire body. He had them in his ears, up his nostrils and under his eyelids. Some infected pox had actually gotten inside his body and caused his pneumonia.
By Saturday, Jesse was pronounced “critical.” We brought his sister Kimberley to the hospital to say her own goodbyes. She also got an injection to help protect her against chickenpox. We were very lucky that she didn’t end up catching chickenpox from Jesse.
All through Saturday it was touch and go. Jesse was hooked to multiple tubes, receiving multiple medicines. His condition seemed to improve slightly, giving us a little hope. The hope didn’t last long.
By that evening, his heart couldn’t take it anymore and failed. His organs just started to shut down. He had chickenpox on his arms and legs, everywhere. He was covered in them. He was read the last rites twice and the Chaplain sang hymn to him. Jesse left the world just before midnight on Saturday, September 1, 2001. He was not yet ten years old.
To say we were in shock is an understatement. Our family was shattered. It was hard for anyone to believe that a common childhood disease like chickenpox had taken our son. We always made sure our kids were vaccinated on time for everything. But back then, the vaccine had only recently come out and I didn’t know about it. If I had known, my son would still be here. There’s no question in my mind.
It’s been 12 years since Jesse’s death. People have no idea what we go through every day. We miss him so much. After all our heartache, we’d like to spare other families our pain. Jesse deserves to have his story told.
We want to warn other parents that while chickenpox is often a mild disease, you can’t count on it. Complications can happen. Yes, it can even kill. Being healthy is no guarantee. There is no way to predict how it will affect your child. We have the opportunity to prevent this disease with a simple vaccination. We urge parents: protect your children.
Jesse Lee Newman
12.11.1991 – 9.1.2001
Rest In Peace
Acknowledgement: Thank you Dorit Reiss for writing about Jesse in your blog and helping to connect Shot by Shot with the Newman family.
Learn more about chickenpox.
Thanks to everyone for sharing Jesse’s Story. You are helping to raise awareness and make a difference. If you would like to comment or offer support to the family, please visit Shot by Shot on Facebook.
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