By Noah Bridges
Screams of “call 911!” fill the air at our local community center pool. I float gently with only my eyes above water watching the blood gush from my brother Porter’s head. The water muffles his wailing enough to make it indistinguishable from the cries of distraught onlookers. The Grand Mal seizure would not relinquish its grip on his muscles until he was deposited in the ambulance.
Porter would flat line twice that day, leaving us with nothing but waning hope in an all too familiar corner of the ICU. While life sings lullabies to some, it spins tornadoes for others.
Porter had won this tragic lottery and after being born a normally functioning baby, had a disastrous reaction to his Pertussis vaccine. After four months of life, an angel’s wings were clipped by the one person in his life trusted by his family to keep him safe.
Autism and cognitive delays rattle the potential for the most basic of childhoods; birthday parties are seen – not experienced, no first kiss, no children of his own, and no original thoughts. My older brother, responsible for guiding me on life’s grand path, was reduced to a toddler’s mind forever. I ponder on Porter’s life and wonder whether he’s more aware than we could ever know, but little evidence supports my theories.
Everyone close to Porter dealt with his conditions in different ways. My mother turned to alcohol and gently numbed her mind in existential agony.
“Compensation” is an interesting word for a supposed consolation of a life thwarted early, but that is what we received. Our whole family descended on Atlanta, Georgia, and fought in the National Vaccine Court, winning our case against the CDC. The opposing counsel conceded that
Porter was in fact eternally damaged by their treatments, and money was dumped in a new monitored account for Porter’s future medical needs. None of this information was shared publicly, however. which left my family on a social precipice (and specifically me through brotherly honor).
The hardest decision of my life was forged in those courtrooms whilst I was still in diapers (that I would eventually grow out of; Porter would not.). My brother needed a voice. I would never forget Porter, but society might have if I hadn’t decided to etch his story into their minds. But there are dangers in advocacy for something as controversial as vaccinations. His story could cause parents to refuse vaccination altogether.
Through hours of deliberation I made the decision that those who have no voice deserve one. On television shows across the country along with an armada of online articles, Porter’s story would be shared even if he couldn’t share it.
I told Porter of my plan to spread the word one afternoon on the porch of his group home. A choir of robins and blue jays began their next hymn as I finished my explanation. A slow but conscious smile enveloped his face. There’s an equal chance he was smiling about his favorite Winnie the Pooh episode or a scene from Pocahontas (his favorite two programs) but I sincerely hope he appreciated my intentions.
I will continue fighting for Porter and he will never stop fighting for himself. I do not desire that any family cancel their plans of vaccination, nor avert their gazes when Porter is near. I simply wish for all to be aware of and honest toward life’s dazzling turbulence, its lilac meadows and its graveyards. I want everyone to know Porter. He is my brother and I love him dearly.