A toddler recently diagnosed with leukaemia was injected with the wrong vaccine when he was a baby, leading his distraught parents to wonder whether this mistake caused the debilitating cancer.
Two-year-old Chace Topperwien has been undergoing up to 10 hours of aggressive chemotherapy a day for acute myeloid leukaemia in Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital since his birthday on March 17.
His parents, Ryan and Keri Topperwien, took Chace to be vaccinated when he was six weeks old and were shocked to learn that the immunisation nurse had incorrectly injected him with Gardasil, a vaccine intended for 12-year-old girls to prevent cervical cancer.
"The nurse came back in and said 'I'm sorry but I've actually given your son the wrong drug'. We were like 'what do you mean you've given him the wrong drug?'," Mr Topperwien told NZPA.
"I wanted to go nuts but I looked at my wife and we both were kind of just shocked. She said 'I can give him the right one now' but there was no way we were going to let her touch our boy again."
When Chase was diagnosed with leukaemia last month they could not help but draw a link, although they were assured by numerous doctors that the Gardasil would have had no adverse effects.
"I can't see how they can say that unless there's research done on it and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have done research on six-week-old boys getting a Gardasil vaccination.
"We just want to get some answers, we want some research done. They made the stuff-up and now, for the last two years, they've just swept it under the carpet."
The couple had been doing their own research online and found numerous cases of Gardasil causing ITP, a condition which prevents blood from clotting as it should - also a symptom of leukaemia.
But Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble said there was no link between Gardasil and leukaemia, although the Topperwiens' concerns had been taken seriously and steps had been taken to ensure the mistake did happen again.
Gardasil had an excellent safety record and had been proven safe on both boys and girls, she said.
"It's very good that they raised their concerns with us. This (mistake) should not have happened.
"But there is nothing in the literature to suggest that Gardasil could have caused Chace's condition, not to trivialise their situation."
Chace was diagnosed with leukaemia after his parents took him to the doctor when they noticed a rash on his neck, and his blood test results came back abnormal.
"I can't even describe it. It was probably the worst possible outcome that we could have imagined. We thought it would just be a check, just to make sure everything was all right. It crossed our minds beforehand but we just thought 'no, it definitely can't be leukaemia'."
Mr Topperwien, a ceiling repairer, and Mrs Topperwien, who is doing a PhD, both dropped their lives in Hamilton to be with their son in the Auckland hospital fulltime.
"I don't think I'd be able to work anyway, I'd end up just injuring myself because I'd be thinking about Chace all the time.
"We're both not making any money but I think it's better for my boy for us to be here than at work because, like the doctor said, a happy child recovers faster."
Chace was doing "remarkably well", despite being cooped up in a hospital ward for 23 hours a day and having his golden locks shaved off.
"We also shaved our heads to make him feel like it wasn't weird, because he'd never really had his hair cut, he'd only ever had trims, so we just wanted to show him that it was okay."
The family had been receiving overwhelming support from their family and friends, and from total strangers, Mr Topperwien said.
A Facebook page, Chace Topperwien Fundraising, has been set up to raise money for them.
- NZPABy Matt Theunissen