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The tragic story behind Roald Dahl’s passion for vaccines

To Olivia, a new film on Sky Cinema, captures the year (1962) that author Roald Dahl’s daughter died of measles encephalitis. The death of 7-year-old Olivia almost tore the family apart. This terrible story will be new to many people, but it is nothing new to me. I first heard it 30 years ago from Dahl himself.

I was a junior doctor in Oxford and Dahl, 74, was my patient. He was hospitalized with a rare form of leukemia, and every third night when I was on call we would talk late at night. As the weeks passed and it became clear that he was not going to recover, he became more mindful of his own life.

He told me about Olivia one evening when I was sitting by his bed. She caught measles during an outbreak at her school. At first, it was just a mild illness.

“We thought she was above the worst,” Dahl explained. “We saw, you know, the usual sort of thing, fever, fatigue, spots. We even teased her for her peas.

The next day, she deteriorated.

Dahl smirked pale and his eyes began to open.

“I was sitting on her bed showing her how to shape little animals with colorful pipe cleaners,” Dahl later wrote, “and when it was her turn to make one herself, I noticed that his fingers and his mind didn’t work together. and there was nothing she could do.

Dahl asked Olivia if she was feeling well.

“I feel very sleepy,” she said.

An hour later, she was unconscious. Twelve hours later she was dead.

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