Frankie Milley holds a portrait of her son Ryan.
Frankie, a dynamic woman with a sweet Southern accent, has a very personal reason for her advocacy work. In 1998, Ryan Wayne Milley, Frankie’s only child, was a healthy, vibrant 18-year-old college student who contracted a vaccine preventable form of meningococcal meningitis, and, in the words of his mother, died a horrible death. Through the Menengitis Angels, Frankie has made it her life’s mission to educate the public, to provide support to families affected by the disease, and to be an advocate to keep healthy children safe. “I will fight until I die, or these kids are protected,” she told me on the phone this week.
“I believe if infants and children had the choice and voice to prevent a deadly debilitating disease with a vaccination, they would choose a shot,” Milley states. “They don’t. So those of us who have the science, facts, and proof have to be that voice. The voice of life, health and prevention of deadly disease.”
So what’s the hold-up? Why, unlike at least 15 other developed countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, does the U.S. not vaccinate infants for the leading cause of preventable infant death?
According to Milley, a big reason is cost. “There are new infant meningitis vaccines on horizons,” she says, “but as new and more expensive vaccines come, debates over case statistics and need verses cost effectives come too.”
Part of Frankie’s website dedicated to those who have died from various forms of meningitis. It will break your heart.
The page for baby Alexa reads, “On February 8, 2002, our beautiful healthy baby girl passed away at the age of 7 months and 3 days….”
Another page memorializes a teenager named Abe. It simply says, “Abe was my only child. I love you Abe. Mom.”
Could those deaths have been prevented? Can we stop even more tragedies from occurring?
The Laffertys, for their part, had no idea that the CDC will soon be considering whether to recommend a vaccine for infants two years and younger. “If it could prevent children from experiencing what Memphis has experienced, it would be miraculous,” they said. “Think how different his life would’ve been if it had been available when he was a baby.”
Unsurprisingly, Memphis’ parents can’t fathom that cost, which indeed is reportedly is one obstacle to a CDC recommendation, would be a factor in government bodies making decisions about physician and patient access to vaccines in America. “I’m sure that their perspective would be greatly altered if they had a family member who had been stricken with the disease,” they said.
What do the Laffertys want other parents to know about meningitis? Simply this: “It is something that you would never want to experience. No child ever deserves this.”