In 1962, Olivia 'Twenty' Dahl, eldest daughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal, dies
Olivia 'Twenty' Dahl, eldest daughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal, dies from measles encephalitis at the age of seven.
Roald's elder sister Astri was also seven years old when she died in 1920, a coincidence Roald himself notes in Boy.
Roald writes movingly about the death of his daughter in a pamphlet he contributed to The Sandwell Health Authority in 1988, which urges parents to have their children vaccinated against measles. An excerpt is reproduced below.
"Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn't do anything.
'Are you feeling all right?' I asked her.
'I feel all sleepy,' she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it..."
Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity