© Photo courtesy of Angela Loerzel Swafford
As a social worker known for her expertise when handling high-stress conflict management cases, Angela Loerzel Swafford figured she'd navigate her own concerns when it came to addressing her employers' vaccination mandate last fall.
And she definitely had concerns.
Like many hospitals and health systems across the nation during that time, the hospital where the 46-year-old was and is still employed required their health workers to get the jab. But Swafford suffers from a venous malformation, a condition where veins in the body develop in an unusual way. Because the abnormality can increase the risk of developing blood clots and deep vein thrombosis, she was hesitant about getting the COVID jab.
Still, worried about the possibility of losing the job she loved, the licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) practicing in both Oregon and Washington, was willing to do what was needed to protect her patients from COVID-19
"I love that job," said Swafford who had always gotten the flu vaccine every year to protect the vulnerable patients she visits in hospice care. "I have this concern about my own safety but I also understand what I need to do to protect the community."
"It stops with you," she added, or so she had always been told.No Space for QuestionsSwafford reached out to a few of her health providers, asking which vaccine would be best for her situation. However, she claimed that she didn't feel supported during her inquiry and decision-making process."I think there should be space that we can be curious and pause and ask questions," she said, noting she did express her health concerns but that her employer and health providers didn't really allow any questions. "I feel that the physicians had a script and I was not heard and was kind of pushed through."Seizure-like Symptoms, Blurred Vision
After being one of the last of her cohort of colleagues to receive the first Pfizer shot, what transpired next for Swafford was nothing short of horrifying.Four hours later she started noticing pain in her upper body and difficulty charting her patients. Driving home that night, she lost orientation as to where she was."Taking the exit to my house, I remember it felt like my face was exploding in pinpricks-like I had all of these sharp needle feelings all over my face," she recalled. "My tongue, lips, and face felt swollen, my vision was blurred and I wasn't processing information."Once home, the strange sensations were followed by a repeated jerking of her whole body, what she said resembled Tonic-Clonic seizures. She also experienced blurred vision and terrible headaches.
"The biggest thing was my vision, confusion in my thinking, trying to walk with coordination and dizziness," she went on. "I couldn't figure things out."During some neurology psychiatry testing, Swafford said she fell under the two percentile of the people in her peer group when it came to her "processing speed" and "impaired ability to learn new information."
"They found I'm not encoding new information - that my processing is really slow," she explained.Ultimately, Swafford was diagnosed with a severe adverse reaction to the mRNA vaccine.Now, more than a year later after undergoing numerous lab tests, MRIs, CT scans, and a plethora of visits to healthcare professionals (including neurologists, an epidemiologist, an occupational medicine specialist, a speech therapist, and others), Swafford continues to suffer cognitively, from an abrupt change in her vision and sleep abnormalities. She doesn't drive because of double vision and a loss of peripheral vision and hasn't returned to work.Doctors: Neurological Side Effects Have Been More Unusual
Meanwhile, despite cases of myocarditis having made the headlines in terms of adverse reactions to the vaccines, neurological side effects like the ones experienced by Swafford, haven't gotten the same attention.
That, along with what she described as her health providers' lack of acknowledgment, has been frustrating for both her and her husband."We kept running into providers in every system saying, 'We're not permitted to make the connection' or 'It doesn't mean anything until studies support it' or 'It doesn't exist until the scientific community writes about it," recounted Swafford."One of the saddest things I see is the diagnosis of functional neurologic disorder (FND) lumped together for these patients," said Dr. Diane Counce, medical director of neurology and neurodiagnostics in Alabama, noting that such a diagnosis makes patients feel like "it's all in their head."
Counce describes Swafford's symptoms as neurological.Data from the Center for Disease Control's Vaccine Adverse Reporting System (VAERS) calculated through Oct. 28, 2022, has shown a total of over 37,000 reported neurological symptoms.In terms of neurological symptoms similar to Swafford's, there have been 4,659 cases of balance disorder, 10,190 cases of migraines, 5,192 seizures, and 573 seizure-like phenomena on VAERS. Also documented among many other neurological incidents were 4,737 cases of visual impairment.
"When you have a patient like Swafford who within four hours is having symptoms that she's never experienced before, clearly this is not just a migraine," added Counce, noting the number of physicians that aren't willing to take on patients like her or don't know how to treat such patients. "She's one of the more severe cases I've heard of experiencing multiple things including confusion, headaches, visual, hearing, mood, and behavioral changes."
After reviewing Swafford's case, epidemiologist, professor, and author Daniel Halperin also concluded that as a young, healthy person who experienced these symptoms soon after receiving the shot, the most likely explanation for the health ailments must be vaccine-related.
Like many experts, Halperin, who has written myriad peer review education articles and the book, "Facing COVID Without Panic: 12 Common Myths and 12 Lesser Known Facts about the Pandemic: Clearly Explained by an Epidemiologist," acknowledges that no vaccine is 100 percent safe.
"Early on, we thought vaccination was important not only to help people be protected from death or severe illness, but also because it could greatly cut down on the transmission of COVID," Halperin said, noting the common sense approach and the belief that health professionals should get the vaccine not just for themselves but for their patients and others they might be exposed to.
"Now that we know they don't actually do very much to prevent transmission, I'm not sure how convincing that argument is anymore," he added.Prescribing a Vaccine Injury RegimenFor her part, Counce is working with Swafford and has prescribed a regimen for her that includes intermittent fasting — known to have a strong effect on promoting immune system homeostasis, taking probiotics and certain supplements including vitamin D, resveratrol, melatonin, and omega-3 fatty acids."It's frustrating we don't have specific labs to check these things," Counce added, noting that when she started seeing patients developing negative symptoms from the vaccinations, injuries seemed to be all over the place.But, she said when she sees a vaccine-injured patient, she has ruled it down to about five different things that could be going on with their body. These include decreased immunity, autoimmune response, inflammatory/histamine response (similar to Mast Cell Syndrome), fibrin activation causing micro clotting, and amyloidosis (a disease that occurs when a protein called amyloid builds up in organs).Counce said it's been shown by an electron microscope that damage has been done to the cells' mitochondria, which likely contributes to brain fog and fatigue that patients experience.
As a neurologist, she reported seeing an increasing number of vaccine-injured patients with personality changes
, sleep issues, and nerve and muscle issues, among others.
"It's hard to say," said Counce, who has been treating Swafford for the last month, as to what her prognosis is and if she will ultimately improve or not.
"All vaccine injuries respond so differently," said Counce. "This is a brave new world for us."'I'm Really Out'
Meanwhile, Angela Loerzel Swafford and her family wish she could get a "do-over" when it comes to getting that jab.
"I did the shot to keep everything and more so to protect the community I work in because that's what they were telling me, but in the end, I lost everything," she said. "I am not the same."
"Angela would like people to understand that there are folks out there that have actually suffered a vaccine injury and it's totally okay to say 'Yep, that happened,'" said her husband. "Too many doctors are willing to say 'There are no studies to support that,' instead of gathering the evidence."
"I think it was either you're vaccinated and you're with us or you're not," recalled Swafford, regarding the mood at the time. Now, she said, most of her friends don't know how to be with her because she's so different from who she once was.
"It became you're in or you're out and I'm really out," she said.Carly Mayberry - As a seasoned journalist and writer, Carly has covered the entertainment and digital media worlds as well as local and national political news and travel and human-interest stories. She has written for Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter. Most recently, she served as a staff writer for Newsweek covering cancel culture stories along with religion and education.