By Louis Conte
On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, Danny Alger, age 37, went to heaven. He was surrounded by his mother, Joyce, and father, Ed. Danny got to see God knowing that he was loved.
Danny Alger is one of the most important people our community has ever known.
In case 89-31V, Special Master Paul T. Baird ruled Danny “sustained an encephalopathy, the first symptoms of which appeared within three days of the second DPT vaccine that he received on March 27, 1977.” The injury left Danny with seizures and developmental delays.
And the vaccine injury also left Danny with autism.
Danny Alger was one of the first cases to be decided by a hearing in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). It was a tough hearing but Ed, Joyce and their Attorney, Cliff Shoemaker, proved their case and managed to get Danny Alger compensated for his injuries.
The Algers weren’t trying to prove that vaccines caused Danny’s autism. Autism was barely understood in the late 1980’s because it was so rare. The Algers needed resources to care for Danny and managing his seizures was a never ending struggle. Autism was just another issue and a rare behavioral diagnosis is not your primary concern when you are fighting to keep your child alive.
Eventually, the money from the settlement ran out. It was never really enough and there is no way to petition the NVICP for additional assistance. Ed and Joyce went about their lives, took care of Danny, raised their other children and like all of us, did their best.
No one from the NVICP ever contacted them again. It seemed Danny and his family were supposed to fade into the fringes of the American landscape. It seemed they were supposed to become invisible.
Danny Alger was one of the first cases where the federal government, grudgingly, compensated vaccine injury victims. Danny was one of the first of those cases that also featured autism. As the years passed, there would be many more. The government wanted those cases to be invisible too.
I found the Algers after reading through dozens of old NVICP case decisions while doing the research that ultimately resulted in the publication of Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury, 28 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 480 (2011). Ed and Joyce were the first people I called and it was one of the most remarkable conversations of my life. One of my sons with autism was making a racket while I was talking with Joyce and she just happened to mention that Danny used to make all sorts of noises because he also had autism.
Amazingly, Danny Alger was no longer invisible.