Shortly after New Jersey mother of three Olga Passick sent her 13-year-old-son, David, off for his new school year in 2004, he came home one weekend evening with what she thought were flu http://www.aolhealth.com/symptom-checker/
: a high fever and vomiting. By the next morning, David had become quite weak, his body ached all over and he'd developed a rash, so Olga and her husband rushed their son to the doctor. The diagnosis: David had contracted a http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/bacterial-infection
- bacterial infection
called meningococcal meningitis. Less than 24 hours after the boy first showed http://www.aolhealth.com/symptom-checker/
, the disease had claimed his life. "It's very difficult to bury your child," said Olga through tears. "And to find out that there was a vaccine that could've saved him? I wish I had known."
It's been five years since her loss, and Olga has turned her devastation into a cause she's passionate about: She has teamed up with http://voicesofmeningitis.org/
- Voices of Meningitis
and the http://www.nasn.org/
- National Association of School Nurses
to urge parents to have their preteens and teens vaccinated against http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/meningitis
. Any healthy adult can contract http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/meningitis
, but the CDC reports that teens and young adults are at higher risk because of how the illness is spread: by sharing utensils and drinking glasses or water bottles, kissing, or living in close quarters like dormitories. Sporadic sleep patterns and late-night studying or partying make young people particularly susceptible, since these activities weaken the body's natural immunity to illness.
Oklahoma City resident Amanda Moran, pictured left, was just 18 when she contracted meningitis eight years ago. The summer before she enrolled in her freshman year of college, she was lifeguarding at a local college campus. Two days before she packed up for her move to school, she came down with the illness, and her mother rushed her to the emergency room. The teen didn't lose her life, but she did miss out on six months of her freshman year.
"I believe I got meningitis on that campus," Moran said. "I later learned that another student on that campus died from the disease." Living with meningitis eventually led Moran to change her college major from marketing to community health, and she now serves as a professional lobbyist and spokesperson for meningitis awareness.
"It's always better to prevent a disease than it is to treat it," she said. "I only wish I'd known I could've prevented this disease by getting vaccinated."
The CDC recommends vaccination for children between ages 11 and 18 and college freshman. "Every parent should talk to a doctor or school nurse about getting this vaccination," said Sandi Delack, a registered nurse and school nurse of 20 years in her home state of Rhode Island. "Our children don't have to die. Vaccination is the single most important step we can take to stop this devastating disease."
As in David's case, meningitis can be difficult to spot because its symptoms mimic those of the common flu: high fever, vomiting, body chills, http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/stiff-neck
- stiff neck
and headache. Yet the disease's seriousness is anything but common: 10 percent of those who come down with meningitis die; and one in five survivors live through brain damage, deafness, http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/kidneys
damage and even amputation.
And the disease doesn't always strike the young, which is something Maggi Pivovar, pictured left, can attest to. On the morning of April 20, the 40-year-old Kansas City resident knew something was awry: She had a fever, severe http://www.aolhealth.com/condition-center/headaches-migraines
, vomiting and nausea. She assumed she had the flu until, about 18 hours into her symptoms, she felt as if her feet were freezing. When Pivovar's husband noticed that his wife seemed confused and that she'd developed a skin rash -- two meningitis symptoms -- he drove her to the emergency room.
The doctor immediately diagnosed Pivovar with meningitis and put her into a coma for three weeks. When she emerged from the coma, doctors delivered the shocking news: She'd have to have both of her lower legs amputated. After two months in the hospital, she finally came home to navigate life as a disabled -- but not disheartened -- mother to four sons.
"I feel so lucky that I only lost my legs and not my life -- because one in 10 people who get this disease don't make it at all," said Pivovar, who at first was relegated to a wheelchair until she learned to http://www.thatsfit.com/category/walking/
using her artificial legs. "Every day, I am just so thankful to be alive. I have a strong faith, and that has helped me to do whatever is necessary to be here for my family."
Any healthy adult or child can get meningitis, but some are more susceptible, like those who already have a weakened immune system from an autoimmune disorder such as http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/lupus-systemic-lupus-erythematosus
or sickle cell anemia. Twelve years before her diagnosis, Pivovar was struck with Hodgkin's lymphoma and had to have her http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/spleen
removed. That removal, which compromises the immune system, put Pivovar at greater risk for contracting meningitis. "I had no idea I was more vulnerable to this disease," she said. "In fact, I didn't even know that a meningitis vaccine existed."
After the tragic blow Passick and her family experienced after they lost David, her only hope is that other parents will hear her message loud and clear: Get vaccinated.
"If I had known about the vaccine, I wouldn't [have] had to go through this terrible loss," Olga said. "We miss David very much every single day," said Olga, who immediately had her other two children immunized against meningitis once she learned there was a vaccine. "Every parent needs to know about this vaccine. It could save your child's life."