It’s been four years since Alicia Stillman’s healthy, happy, 19-year-old daughter Emily died suddenly from meningitis B.
“Some days I can’t get out of bed still,” Alicia Stillman said.
In early 2013, Emily Stillman was a sophomore at Kalamazoo College. Her first symptom was a headache. Within 36 hours, she was dead.
“If I didn’t know, I’m sure other people don’t know. I said to her that day, I’m going to figure this out,” Alicia Stillman said.
What Emily Stillman didn’t have then but is available now is a vaccine for meningitis B. That vaccine was fast-tracked into the United States in 2015.
On Tuesday, leaders at the Kent County Health Department came together to encourage parents and teens to “vaccinate before you graduate.”
The timing is important. Health officials say the disease most often affects young adults between the ages of 17 and 23 — the same times in their lives when they’re most likely to be living in dorms or apartments in close proximity to others, which can increase the chance of exposure. Meningitis B can be spread through saliva and nose secretions.
But some parents may object to the idea of vaccinating their child with another needle and another substance. To them, Alicia Stillman had this to say:
“You are so blessed to be able to vaccinate your child with another needle and another substance. I wish I could turn back the clock and vaccinate mine with another needle and another substance.”
Meningitis is usually caused by an infection of the fluid around the spinal cord and brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can include fever, nausea, vomiting, joint pain and a rash, among other things.
Stillman started The Emily Stillman Foundation to spread the word about meningitis B and advocate for organ donation.