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 and theater. One night in January, 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 protected 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 such as 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.
While your students are still at home, talk to your family physician and make sure your child is vaccinated and protected from meningitis B before graduation. They will be more susceptible and vulnerable to the deadly disease when the 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 their children vaccinated before they graduate, parents are ensuring a healthier future for their 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.