Seeking to solve a health mystery
Last updated 9/21/2021 at Noon
I’m guessing a good number of folk in Sisters know the name Ken Ruettgers. Some will recall he played for the Green Bay Packers. Others will remember him as a coach for the Outlaws. It’s possible a few have taken his course at COCC. He holds a doctorate degree in sociology, which may be at the heart of his activism.
“As a sociologist I look for patterns,” Ruettgers said, when I spent more than an hour with him curious about the fuss some would say he has caused by taking a string of coincidences and marshaling them into an assertive information campaign on social media and the internet.
It all began, as most things do, with a seemingly one-off event. You know that feeling, right? Am I the only one with this problem? Or, Am I the only one who sees this?
His wife, Sheryl, was doing an internship for her post-graduate work in a medical setting in Bend. As such, she was designated a front-line health worker eligible for early COVID vaccination in January.
Within 48 hours of her Moderna jab, she developed painful symptoms and sought medical attention. There is no need to review the entire physical trauma she has endured to this day. She has had more tests than a lab rat, some of which were sent to Stanford and National Institute for Health for analysis.
Bottom line: Sheryl remains with uncomfortable, life-altering symptoms that no doctor has said was caused by the vaccine. Not satisfied, she and Ken became voracious consumers of all the scientific literature, with the primary goal not of blaming anybody, but of making her well.
Along the path of discovery, they met fellow travelers. Not one or two or a dozen but hundreds who had similar experiences following COVID vaccination.
“Too much of a coincidence,” Ken told me.
And to work he went, trying to connect the medical world to the real-life cases, many far worse than Sheryl’s, of ordinary people having extraordinary post-vaccination conditions.
His campaign — my word, not his — started the way many do: on Facebook. Sheryl’s group started out with eight and now has between 150 and 180, Ken says. As a Facebook group its postings are private, limited only to group members and not one’s broader network. Turns out their group is one of several other comparable groups, one of which has a few thousand members.
“They try to remain under the radar and are extremely careful of the words and tone they use,” Ken said, “to avoid ridicule at the lowest level and gaslighting or censoring in the extreme case.”
Indeed, big tech companies have gone to lengths to police speech they deem as misinformation. While their intentions may be admirable, their results are at best mixed and have ignited widespread criticism that they are selectively violating free speech rights.
More than one Facebook page has been de-platformed for their adverse-reaction utterings. One such page, published by Earthly, “published out-of-context news stories about vaccine side effects and skirted moderation by misspelling the word ‘vaccine’ in posts questioning whether vaccination is safe,” according to Facebook moderators.
Mr. Ruettgers, the Senator is on the line
Who do you know in Sisters that just picks up the phone and calls a sitting U.S. senator? A Senator no less who returns the call within four hours. That’s the sort of head-on charge you’d expect from a 6-foot-5-inch, 280-pound NFL tackle.
The senator in this case, Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin, is not shy about speaking his mind and has taken several politically controversial positions. Ken Ruettgers chose Johnson, whom he did not know personally, trading on his Packer status. Three days later, June 27, Johnson sat in on a two-hour Zoom call with Sheryl and other vaccine recipients with post-vaccine complications, some quite serious.
Ken, with the help of his brother, a professional graphic designer, has built a website (c19vaxreactions.com) that is a little Wikipedia for anybody seeking more information about adverse vaccine reactions. The site contains emotional, recorded testimony of patients in a straightforward telling, including that of a 12-year-old consigned to a wheelchair.
Ken is hypervigilant and sensitive about what content appears on his site. And Sheryl’s Facebook group was concerned that Senator Johnson’s interest would subject them to political haranguing, or, in a worst case scenario, being banned by Facebook.
Ken and Sheryl are not anti-vaxxers. Both are educated, articulate spokespersons for a subject that many would just as soon not be discussed. Their goal it appears to me is to shine a light on however many patients are being treated following vaccination and are mostly content to let reasonable folks draw their own conclusions about cause.
My takeaway is that while Ken and Sheryl Ruettgers see this as a mission of information, I see their work as an emotional support group for those feeling powerless and in some cases isolated in their situation. It has a certain David and Goliath feel about it. (See related story, page 9.)