Couple who lost son to measles complications urging others to vaccinate

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- A Port Orchard family says their son passed away from complications from the measles.

Photos bring back memories of baby Jaxon for Oscar and Paula Abalahin.

“2001 was when we adopted him,” said Oscar Abalahin.

The couple adopted their first child from the Philippines when Jaxon was 18 months old. They say he had been abandoned at birth and living at an orphanage.

“During that time while he was at the orphanage at seven months old he contracted measles."

They say Jaxon was not immunized as an infant in the Philippines but that he was treated for measles and given a clean bill of health when they adopted him and brought him to the U.S.

“We grew up knowing that half the kids got measles, you got treated and you were fine,” said Oscar Abalahin, and added that Jaxon having had measles did not concern them because they were unaware of any complications that could develop years later.

Life for the next few years was normal. The couple says they were thrilled to have Jaxon at home, that he was a happy child who loved toy cars, baseball and puzzles.

“Kind, normal kid.”

When Jaxon started kindergarten, midway through the school year, he started having unusual symptoms.

“Jerking type seizures,” described Oscar Abalahin. He added that Jaxon’s symptoms progressed quickly; the child was falling down a lot, couldn’t hold onto items and started losing his speech.

Paula Abalahin asked doctors to re-examine her son’s medical chart from the Philippines after her own research showed a possible rare complication from measles was matching Jaxon’s symptoms.

“They told us about SSPE, (Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) it’s caused by the measles virus and there is no cure.”

SSPE is a rare infection caused by the measles virus affecting the nervous system.

The National Institute of Health says there are less than 10 cases per year in the United States but higher rates in developing countries.

They state on their website, “Most individuals with SSPE will die within 1 to 3 years of diagnosis. In a small percentage of people, the disease will progress rapidly, leading to death over a short course within three months of diagnosis. Another small group will have a chronic, slowly progressive form, some with relapses and remissions. A very small number (approximately 5 percent) may experience spontaneous long term improvement and regain lost function. Prevention, in the form of measles vaccination, is the only real "cure" for SSPE.”

“The hardest part was not being able to do anything for him. We did everything we could for him, but the hardest part was not being able to cure it,” said Paula.

In 2008, at 8 years old, Jaxon lost his life to SSPE.

“Every day he’s in my heart. Every day, but he was a joy, through it all. He was a joy,” said Paula.

The couple says they did give Jaxon the MMR booster vaccine before he started kindergarten, but say he was not immunized as an infant with MMR which is why they believe he contracted measles.

“If anything good is going to come of this to let others know to get immunized,” said Oscar Abalahin.

The World Health Organization has declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019.