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Marine from area can't walk after reaction to smallpox vaccine

Go to the link for video clip.
http://www.ky3.com/news/4746111.html, by Michelle Sherwood, KY3 News

SPRINGFIELD -- Josef Lopez had only been serving in Iraq for one week when he suddenly lost all ability to move. Now he's in physical therapy at St. John's Hospital, where he's been since mid-November.

"I didn't know sit ups would be so hard," said Lopez as he worked with a therapist recently. "Every day, I can feel myself getting a little bit better."

The things that used to be second nature to him now take serious concentration. His left leg drags as he walks across the floor with a walker.

"It doesn't want to get straight," he told his therapist.

Lopez says it's frustrating.

"You're thinking, 'I should be able to do this.' But I can't," he said.

Lopez got his vaccinations in California about a week before leaving for Iraq. When he got there, he started training and learning about the locale. However, on the last day in September, he says he noticed something was wrong with his body as he walked or ran.

"Overnight I couldn't go to sleep," said Lopez. "Things just got worse, and by the morning I couldn't move my legs at all."

Lopez was rushed to a hospital in Germany. His mother and older brother met up with him a few days later. His mother, Barbara, couldn't believe her eyes.

"I knew he was going to look pretty bad," she said. "And he did."

Doctors in Germany told her they had only seen Lopez open his eyes before her arrival. She says her son responded to her voice right away.

The doctors didn't immediately know the cause of Lopez's paralysis --they only knew it was moving quickly. It had moved from his toes to his brain stem before they realized that he had a reaction to the smallpox vaccine.

"It made my body attack itself," Lopez said.

Doctors told him that the vaccine basically made his antibodies attack one another. It took several blood transfusions to start reversing the problem.

After a few days, Lopez and his family flew to Bethesda, Md., to undergo more treatment at a naval hospital. Doctors there told them they had only seen three other cases like his in 10 years. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, out of a million people, less than 55 will have a serious reaction to the vaccine.

As tough as this is for Lopez, he believes it happened for a good reason -- so he could see his dad, who died on Thanksgiving Day from Alzheimer's disease.

"He was in the hospital the day I got here, so I got to see him that day," he said. "When I left for Iraq, I thought I'd never get to see him again, so I did get to see him one last time. It's kind of weird how this smallpox thing brought me home."

Lopez has lost a lot in a short amount of time, but he says he's gained a new perspective on things.

"It's made me realize how stupid little things are," he said.

He hopes to get on crutches by Christmas and, by the progress he's had so far, he just might make it.