The year was 1966. Laura was your typical 18-month-old. She was walking and talking, and was even potty trained.
But a call to the doctor in the middle of the night changed all that.
Laura had a bad case of the chicken pox and had spiked a fever of 103 degrees F°. Her mother called the doctor to see what she should do. The doctor told her to give her a baby aspirin every four hours.
Hours after giving Laura one baby aspirin and trying other methods to cool her off, she still had a fever. So at the four hour mark, her mother gave her a second baby aspirin. It was this second dose that put Laura into convulsions and caused her to die. A neighbor brought Laura back to life after two minutes.
“I died and was dead,” Laura said.
Her touch with death caused irreversible brain damage to her frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning, organizing, problem solving, selective attention, personality and a variety of "higher cognitive functions" including behavior and emotions, as well as motor skills.
Her frontal lobe never matured past that of a 5-year-old.
About Reye’s Syndrome
Reye's syndrome (RS) is a rare but often severe and even fatal illness that primarily occurs in children and teenagers, causing swelling in the liver and brain. The illness can resolve suddenly or advance to coma and death. It’s often misdiagnosed as poisoning, SIDS, encephalitis, diabetes, or meningitis.
Reye's syndrome most often affects children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection and who may also have a metabolic disorder; however, no age group is immune.
Aspirin has also been linked with Reye's syndrome. While aspirin is approved for use in children older than 2-years-old, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin.
In the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended educating parents about the dangers of treating children with aspirin, and now the disease rarely occurs. According to the CDC, 1,207 cases of RS were reported between 1980 and 1997.
The syndrome was initially described in 1963 by Dr. Ralph Douglas Reye. It was three years later when Laura was in the emergency room suffering from the effects of Reye’s. Even though the syndrome was a relatively new discovery, the doctor treating her actually knew what was wrong with her but told her mother to take her home because there was nothing they could do for her.
It was then that Laura began her struggle.
“I had to re-learn everything,” she said. “How to walk, talk and get potty trained.”
While the exact cause of Reye's syndrome is not known several factors play a role in its development. Reye's syndrome appears to be triggered by using aspirin to treat a viral illness or infection, in particular influenza and chickenpox. According to the National Reye’s Syndrome Foundation, research shows that 90 to 95 percent of Reye's syndrome patients in the U.S. have taken aspirin during a preceding viral illness.
Reye’s syndrome can also appear in children and teenagers who have an underlying fatty acid oxidation disorder who take aspirin. Fatty acid oxidation disorders are a group of inherited metabolic disorders in which the body is unable to break down fatty acids because an enzyme is missing or not working properly. A screening test is needed to determine if a child has this disorder.
Exposure to certain toxins, such as insecticides, herbicides and paint thinner, also may contribute to Reye's syndrome.
(To learn more about Reye's, including symptoms, tests, and prevention, click on the links on the right-hand side of this page.)