During a measles outbreak that’s been declared a public health emergency in Washington, people are remembering the words of Roald Dahl, the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and other children’s classics, whose daughter died from the disease decades ago.
She died before a vaccine was available. Dahl, who died in 1990, was a fierce advocate for parents vaccinating their children.
Dahl wrote an open letter years ago titled “Measles: A Dangerous Illness,” that told of his 7-year-old daughter Olivia’s tragic death and also urged parents to have their children vaccinated.
“There was nothing the doctors could do to save her,” he wrote.
In 1962, before a measles vaccine was available, Olivia became infected and wasn’t feeling well for a few days. Dahl wrote that she appeared to be on the “road to recovery,” but then he noticed one day “that her fingers and her mind were not working together” as they were crafting animals out of pipe cleaners on her bed. She had developed measles encephalitis, brain swelling.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
Dahl wrote that parents should “insist” that their child receives the immunization against measles, underscoring that the illness is dangerous and potentially fatal. In the late 1980s, Dahl’s letter appeared in health literature shortly after a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine became available in the U.K. and has since been used in a variety of health campaigns over the years.
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