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Nevada teen recovering from rare Johnson & Johnson vaccine reaction

MED Virus Outbreak J&J Vaccine Factory
Posted at 9:20 AM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 11:20:22-05

LAS VEGAS  — After so much uncertainty, Emma Burkey has been on a miraculous road to recovery.

The Las Vegas teenager is improving leaps and bounds while recovering from a rare but devastating side effect of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

After taking the one-shot J&J vaccine in March of last year, Burkey suffered seizures and blood clots. The odds were suddenly stacked against her.

"I had three brain surgeries along with some other surgeries, and all of the doctors said I shouldn't have made it," Burkey told 13 Action News.

But Burkey persevered through months of treatment and physical therapy at Loma Linda Hospital in California. She has since regained some movement in her legs and hands, now able to do simple things herself.

"Taking off my jacket was a really big deal," she said. "I just want to be able to do more things that normal people wouldn't really think about."

Burkey's mother Kathy says the family has made huge adjustments, including taking out another mortgage for a new home to accommodate her daughter's mobility. But week by week, Kathy says, Emma gets better and better.

"She has our 100% attention," Kathy Burkey said of Emma. "We are living for her at this point in time. We want to get her 100 percent."

Burkey's case was one of half a dozen similar reactions that prompted federal regulators to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for 10 days in mid-April before a review determined the benefits outweighed the rare risk of blood clots.

As of December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed 54 similar cases out of more than 15 million J&J doses administered.

What happened to Emma has shaken confidence in the vaccine for the Burkey family. They believe the J&J vaccine should be taken off the market.

Burkey herself says she believes each individual should make their own decision about getting the shot.

"Don't feel like, because you have to," Burkey said. "Get one because you feel it would help you and your family. Make sure you don't have any health problems involved."

With a new year underway, Burkey has some goals in mind.

"Walk different places," she said. "Getting a job would be really nice. That way, I could just feel more independent, like I was before."

Her family and faith have kept Burkey grounded, with support from her church. A GoFundMe has already raised tens of thousands of dollars to help with medical costs.

"I'm thankful for everyone on how they've helped me get better and donated to me and sent me kind words," Burkey said.

Pastor Heiden Ratner says he’s optimistic about Burkey’s future.

“There’s a scripture in the book of Genesis that what the enemy meant for evil, God can turn for good,” he said.

If you’re interested in helping the Burkey family continue with her recovery, find a link to their GoFundMe page here.

Jeremy Chen at KTNV first reported this story.