High school graduations are an exciting time for both students and parents preparing for college in the fall. As one chapter closes and another begins, it’s important that parents ensure their children are fully prepared for the new adventure that lies ahead.
With three children of my own, I remember those early summer days of going to graduation ceremonies and seeing so much potential in each of them. I was ecstatic about their futures and the marks that they would leave on the world.
However, the college experience was unexpectedly cut short for my daughter, Emily.
Emily was a 19-year-old sophomore at Kalamazoo College studying psychology & theatre. One night she called me complaining of a slight headache. I suggested she take some Motrin and let me know how she felt in the morning. That next morning, I received a phone call from the hospital and, by the time I met her there, she’d slipped into a coma. Emily had contracted meningococcal disease and was going into surgery.
Emily had been vaccinated for meningitis, but had never been vaccinated against meningitis B – a separate but equally dangerous strain of meningitis not covered by the common, required vaccine. At the time of her death, it was not even available in the United States. Meningitis B took her life on Feb. 2, 2013.
There are five strains of bacterial meningitis – serogroups A, C, W and Y covered under the commonly recommended vaccine, and serogroup B, covered under a separate vaccine. Meningitis B is easily spread among people who live in close quarters like dorms, so college students are at particular risk. According to the Center for Disease control, meningitis B accounts for approximately 50 percent of all meningitis cases in persons 17 to 23 years of age in the U.S.
I recently stood with health department officials here in Ingham County, urging parents to get their children vaccinated. I am encouraged by how seriously local health officials take the health and safety of area students.
Meningitis is a serious disease, with 9 cases of bacterial meningitis reported in Ingham County in 2014 and another 5 cases in 2015. And while we are fortunate enough to have not seen a Meningitis B outbreak in Ingham County, Emily’s story proves how quickly that can change.
As your students graduate from high school, talk to your family physician and make sure your child is vaccinated and protected from meningitis B. They will be more susceptible and vulnerable to the deadly disease when they move into their dorm on campus.
Graduating from high school is a time for celebration and looking ahead to the future. Our young people are at a time in their lives when there are countless opportunities within their reach. By getting students vaccinated when they graduate, parents are ensuring a healthier future for incoming freshmen.
At the Emily Stillman Foundation, I strive to preserve Emily’s legacy through education and advocacy on meningitis B. We want to ensure that no other parent and family is forced to experience what ours has endured. Meningitis B is a preventable disease, and by raising awareness of it through better parent and student education, we are working to prevent the kind of tragedy that’s changed our family forever.