Pneumonia vaccine worth your time

November 11, 2013
Immunization Training

Students receive immunization training

It can happen to anyone, at any time.

It happened to the mother of a professional pharmacy student who was in her first year.

“I had finals the next day,” said Lauren DeLoach, currently a third-year student at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. “My mom was rushed to ICU with pneumonia.”

Christy DeLoach, 56, from Port Isabel, Texas, had just returned from Hawaii celebrating 25 years of marriage with Lauren’s father, James DeLoach.

“I did not know what to do,” Lauren said. “I emailed Dr. [James] Robertson to let him know what was going on. He contacted my professors and assured me that my college life would stay under control.”

Lauren’s mom lived with lupus and had a weak immune system. She passed away in Harlingen, Texas, on Dec. 15, 2011, after complications with pneumonia. After Lauren’s loss, James Robertson Jr., Ph.D., who was the associate dean for student affairs, checked on her often, making sure she was OK.

“You don’t have to be a certain age to die from pneumonia,” Lauren said. “Then, last year, I heard that Dr. Robertson died of the same thing as my mom. It hit home with me hard.”

The same person who helped her through her mother’s loss, died of the same complication. Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs that can be caused by a fungus, bacteria or virus. Initial symptoms of pneumonia may be mild and appear flu-like; but if left untreated, this condition can be fatal. 

Pneumonia and influenza together are ranked as the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Robertson was a cornerstone at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy. He died after complications from pneumonia on Nov. 21, 2012, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Robertson was more than just the associate dean for student affairs. He was a friend, mentor, leader and considered family to many of the students and faculty at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy. He was an inspiration to the college and positively influenced countless students to strive for their dreams of becoming pharmacists.

As future health care providers and pharmacists, the professional student pharmacists at Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy hope to bring awareness to this preventable condition through the Ties & Tennis Shoes Memorial 5K Walk/Run. The event will be on Feb. 21, 2014, at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy in honor of Robertson.

Students hope that through the event, penny wars and a T-shirt contest, they will raise enough funds to contribute to the Dr. James Robertson Jr. Memorial Fund which will provide an endowed scholarship in honor of Robertson to students at the college.

“We were like his children,” said Amy Morrow, a fourth-year professional student pharmacist. “He was committed to each and every one of us and saw the potential of what we could become individually and collectively. He supported us during difficult times, celebrated our accomplishments with us, and quickly became an icon of what a true professional is. If we can channel the natural sensitivity, display of fair-mindedness, innate intellectual acumen, and charisma that Dr. Robertson so profoundly manifested, we’ll have nowhere to go but up.” 

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children around the world, contributing to around 1.3 million child deaths in 2011 alone.  Fortunately, pneumonia is preventable by vaccinations and proper hygiene techniques.

“There is now a push to vaccinate children by age 5 for S. pneumonia,” said Lacy Daniels, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy. “Some children who are at risk may even be vaccinated at 2 years old. In the recent past, however, the emphasis has been on elderly patients.  Both the elderly and children are now targeted when dealing with this condition.”

Most community pharmacies carry the pneumococcal immunization and accept walk-ins to receive the vaccination. There are also antibiotics which are used to treat pneumonia and it has a high cure rate if it is caught in its early stages.

“Vaccines are a way to try to avoid pneumonia,” Lauren said. “I hope everyone understands, it can happen to anyone.”

Nicole Garza, third-year professional student pharmacist, contributed to this report.

— Cheri Shipman

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