The inside of Linda Schorel's Pasco County home is dimly lit.
In the dining room, there is almost ghostlike, dust-ridden exercise equipment serving as a reminder of Schorel's lively and sociable past.
Since October 2013, the 56-year-old has mainly been home bound, bedridden and in low spirits.
"It's been very hard," said Schorel while choking up in tears. "Very hard."
Schorel once enjoyed a life as a bookkeeper.
"It was such a big part of who I am," she explained.
In October of 2013, Schorel made her way to a nearby Publix to get her annual flu shot. It's something she'd done for the past eight years.
"It's turned my life upside down, I feel lost," Schorel said.
Within 10 days, Schorel began experiencing tingling in her legs and feet, anything touching her skin irritated her and then she was unable to get out of bed or walk.
Doctors diagnosed her with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency. Most people with the condition must be hospitalized to receive treatment.
The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown but it is often preceded by a bacterial or viral infection. In rare cases, the flu shot can trigger it.
"Anything that is touching me, I am going nuts, of course my feet are swollen, my blood pressure is out of site," Schorel recalled of her symptoms in the hospital.
EXPERTS: FLU SHOT RISK IS EXTREMELY LOW
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 200,000 people across the United States are hospitalized by the flu each year and another 36,000 die from the flu.
In comparison, the U.S. sees less than 20,000 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Nancy Epps, a nurse clinician at Tampa General Hospital, told ABC Action News the benefits of getting a flu shot outweigh the risks.
"You are at more risk of getting seriously ill from the flu than at risk from getting seriously ill from the vaccine," explained Epps.
Epps says depending on which flu shot you elect to get, it can protect against two different strains of the Influenza A virus and one strain of the B virus.
Common side of the getting the flu shot, according to Epps, include:
- anaphylactic/immune response if you are allergic
- arm soreness at injection site
- low fever
These minor side effects could last anywhere from 24-72 hours.
"It's nothing that you end up staying home from work from or makes you sick," Epps said.
Epps told ABC Action there can be serious side effects, but noted that is extremely rare.
"CDC, the FDA do do research studies in the approval process for all the vaccines and they monitor the risks to an individual versus the risk of getting the infection in the first place," Epps explained.
However, everyone reacts differently to vaccinations.
"Everybody's immune system reacts differently to the flu vaccine," Epps added.
And Schorel agrees.
"One shot does not fit all," Schorel said.
SCHOREL FILES FEDERAL CLAIM FOR VACCINE INJURY
No longer able to work, Schorel needed financial help.
She began researching vaccine injuries online and learned about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
First, she filled out a form for the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is a national vaccine safety surveillance program co-sponsored by the CDC and FDA. VAERS is a post-marketing safety surveillance program, collecting information about adverse events (possible side effects) that occur after the administration of vaccines licensed for use in the United States.
VAERS provides a nationwide mechanism by which adverse events following immunization may be reported, analyzed, and made available to the public. VAERS also provides a vehicle for disseminating vaccine safety-related information to parents and guardians, health care providers, vaccine manufacturers, state vaccine programs, and other constituencies.
She then contacted Diana Stadelnikas Sedar, an attorney and partner with Maglio, Christopher & Toale. The Sarasota-based firm that handles cases nationwide involving medical product liability and vaccine litigation.
Sedar is also a nurse.
"Our firm has several hundred claims right now," explained Sedar. "In the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program today there are thousands of on-going claims right now."
THE NATIONAL VACCINE INJURY COMPENSATION PROGRAM
The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).
The VICP was established to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines. The VICP is a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims that provides compensation to people found to be injured by certain vaccines.
The U. S. Court of Federal Claims decides who will be paid.
"The money comes from a tax that is on every vaccine that is given. There is a small portion of that of that fund, or the tax, goes into this trust fund and those funds are all collected and used to compensate those folks who are injured by vaccines," Sedar explain.
According to Sedar, claims can take 1-3 years to process and monetary award can range from thousands of dollars to millions, depending on the injury.
"What they can receive compensation for, some people are unable to go back to work so it replaces lost wages, it helps with medical expenses which you've already incurred and what you may incur in the future for some people who have severe vaccine injuries and also for pain and suffering," Sedar said.
Sedar told ABC Action News the bulk of the cases she handles involve the flu vaccine and tetanus vaccine.
"Probably one of the most common injuries are Guillain-Barre syndrome," she said.
While Sedar echoed experts noting it is rare to have an extreme reaction to vaccinations, she said people need to read the fine print on packaging and any releases they sign.
"I think the best thing to do is ask questions and be informed," she advised.
HOW TO FILE A CLAIM
Sedar says if you begin experiencing any severe symptoms following a flu vaccine you need to seek medical attention for the injury immediately.
She says you also do not need a doctor officially determine a vaccination caused your injury.
"Most often we see physicians don't make that connection or don't want to make that connection," she explained.
Sedar warns claims are time sensitive.
"There are a certain number of vaccines that are covered in the program, not every vaccine is covered," she explained.
"Part of what is required by the statute is that the vaccine symptoms or the reaction has lasted for a specific timeframe. So if it just lasts for a couple days or maybe a month that doesn't necessarily qualify them to file a claim but if its lasted for a period of six months or longer that is one of the timing criteria," Sedar said.
An injury is also time sensitive as to when it occurred.
"In order to be able to file a claim in the program you must file that claim within three years from the onset of symptoms," Sedar explained.
Sedar says those injured by vaccines should also not hesitate to retain an attorney.
If you are awarded money, the U.S. government pays your attorney's fees. The fees do not come out of your compensation.
SCHOREL'S FUTURE IS UNKNOWN
Schorel was recently hospitalized with a new symptom, tachycardia.
She is currently taking pain medication and muscle relaxants on a daily basis.
"I don't know what my outlook is," Schorel said.
There is no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, there are therapies that lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate the recovery in most patients.
The Mayo Clinic reports about 30 percent of those with Guillain-Barré still have a residual weakness after three years and about three percent may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations many years after the initial attack.