Other Voices

Fight meningitis and maximize prevention through inoculation

Those like us who personally know meningitis simply will never forget it or its impact.

Sadly, many of those who have known this bacterial disease did so for only a short time, as the disease quickly and effectively destroys families and takes lives.

Statistics tell us that meningitis leads to death for 10 to 14 percent of those who contract it.

Those who have battled bacterial meningitis and survived know first-hand how it takes limbs and leaves people with lifelong problems and serious health concerns.

Eleven to 19 percent of those infected suffer complications like loss of limbs, damage to the nervous system, deafness, brain damage, seizures and strokes.

The numbers also tell us meningitis is contracted by as many as 2,600 people in the U.S. each year, many of whom are young, healthy students in our high schools and colleges, looking forward to a long and productive education and life.

College students, military personnel and prisoners are particularly vulnerable because they live and work in such close proximity to each other.

Beyond the numbers, there is reality and there are stories. Our family comprises one of those many stories, and today we are living a very different reality than what we ever imagined, due to meningitis.

Daughter Jamie is a charming, bright young woman. She likes to ride her bike, hang out with friends and was a healthy 20-year-old when she became ill with meningococcal meningitis.

In a matter of hours, she went from a charming, vibrant young woman to enduring seven grueling months of hospitalization. Mother Patsy saw Jamie endure multiple amputations because of this rapid and dangerous infection.

She could have been any young woman you know — your daughter, sister, neighbor, friend.

As a young adult and a student at a very large university (the University of Texas at Austin), she was at greater risk than most for meningococcal disease, something we only learned after she became sick.

We almost lost Jamie.

Since then, we have walked the Texas Capitol steps, spoken with countless representatives and senators and testified before numerous Texas legislative committees hoping to slow if not stop meningitis from hurting others.

With leadership from state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; former state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; and former Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, the Legislature passed the Jamie Schanbaum/Nicolis Williams Act in 2011, requiring all students entering college to be vaccinated.

Nicolis Williams was a student at Texas A&M University when he was stricken with meningitis and died from this vaccine-preventable disease.

Fortunately, science has developed vaccines to protect us from many forms of meningitis.

There are two separate vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

One protects against four out of the five strains of meningitis. A new meningitis B vaccine protects against the fifth strain in people between 10 and 25 years old.

This fifth strain has been in the news lately following outbreaks on several college campuses. With the FDA’s approval, the vaccines are now available to the public.

With the start of school, specifically for college-aged students, it is time to ensure they are protected and will not have to fight against meningitis the way Jamie did.

To avoid what happened to Jamie and protect our children from bacterial meningitis, parents should talk with their children’s doctors before school starts about vaccinating against this killer.

Since being stricken, Jamie has graduated from UT Austin, received gold and silver medals as a member of the USA Para-Olympic Cycling Team and is active in the fight for meningitis vaccination. She lives an active life in Austin.

School should be fun and full of educational opportunities, not a time when children should be fighting for their lives.

Patsy and Jamie Schanbaum of Dallas are advocates for meningitis education and prevention. They run The J.A.M.I.E. Group (www.thejamiegroup.org), committed to the fight against meningitis through education, community awareness and advocacy.