It’s hard not to despise the things that cause you pain and suffering. When Tiffany Yonts was 14 years old, she received the Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td) vaccine as part of a routine physical, however, what she experienced next was nowhere near ‘routine.’ As a result from the shot, Tiffany nearly died. She developed the untreatable Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

“I was misdiagnosed for two years (with multiple different things; my diagnosis changed constantly), so not even knowing what I was dealing with made it nearly impossible to come to terms with what had happened to me,” Tiffany told Bored Panda. “I was in a powerful state of denial. Whenever I had an ounce of energy, I would use it to pretend that my life was still normal. I lost swimming, which was both my deepest passion and my job. I had only recently started working as a swim coach for young kids and I loved it with all of my heart. So, it definitely took me some time to accept that I’d basically lost my identity while also being completely in the dark when it came to what was actually happening with my body.”

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GBS is a rare autoimmune disorder in which a person’s own immune system mounts an inflammatory response, causing damage to their peripheral nerves. It can affect the sensory, motor and autonomic nerves. Symptoms can include sensory disturbances in the hands, arms, feet and legs, muscle weakness and loss of reflexes. In some cases, this can lead to paralysis.

“After I learned what my diagnosis actually was, I spent a long time researching it and learning a lot about health and medicine,” she added. “I even studied East Asian medicine (with a heavy dose of biomed) for a while and, even though I was already pro-vaccine by that point, it helped me to really understand the physical processes and science behind vaccines and why they’re so necessary for public health.”

Fourteen years following the start of her health problems, Tiffany finally decided to share her take on them, in an attempt to send a message to all anti-vaxxers.

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“I was never anti-vaccine, even right after everything happened. I think that I already understood that very few people reacted to vaccines the way that I did and that I just happened to choose the short straw instead of one of the other 999,999 long straws,” Tiffany said. “I understood pretty early on that all medical treatments and procedures come with some level of risk. Nobody can ever fully anticipate what a person’s body is going to do in reaction to any particular procedure. Nobody gave me that vaccine with the intention of giving me GBS. They gave it to me with the intention of keeping me from getting tetanus and diphtheria. And that’s the same reason that they give it to everyone else. I was unlucky, but most other people benefited from the same vaccine.”

“As I learned more about the efficacy of vaccines and the importance of herd immunity, it really made me understand how important vaccines are. That’s what really made me switch from being passively pro-vaccine to being outspokenly pro-vaccine. Not only do vaccines protect those who get them from truly terrifying diseases that we’ve managed to largely eradicate, but they also protect immunocompromised people (like infants, cancer patients, other people with autoimmune disorders, etc.) who can’t be vaccinated from getting those same diseases. Herd immunity is so important and a healthy person refusing to get vaccinated puts all of those people at risk, and those are the people that most need our protection.”

Tiffany said that out of all the GBS symptoms she experiences, general exhaustion and weakness, as well as constant body pain (which makes her even more tired), are the most difficult. “I get weird neuropathy in random places at random times, but I’m mostly used to that now. I do still struggle with breathing, but it’s nowhere near as terrible as it was before. It’s been almost 15 years now, and, honestly, I don’t remember what it felt like to not have all of these symptoms. It sucks to not be able to walk long without stopping or being in a wheelchair, but I roll with it (haha, pun). I’ve learned how to manage my own expectations and how to take care of myself so that things don’t get too bad. It’s the little things that still get to me. Taking a shower exhausts me completely and I can barely do anything afterward. Putting a sheet on my bed makes me winded every time, and I have to sit down to catch my breath. Those little, everyday things are discouraging. But I do the best that I can with them.”

She also wanted to thank everyone for the support she has received. “I honestly didn’t expect my story to go anywhere. I mean, I wanted it to, just so people could understand the truth of the situation, but I never expected people to pay attention. The way that I see it, if my story can help even one person, all of this will have been worth it. That might sound fake-humble, but really, when you spend a large portion of your life barely leaving the house, or even barely leaving your room, it starts to make you feel like having any kind of impact is impossible, and falling into feeling useless is way too easy.”

People were incredibly grateful to Tiffany for sharing her experience

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