“We Didn’t Know If He Would Ever Walk Again” — Canada, USA, and Meningitis
How much do you know about this deadly disease? UPDATED with breaking news.
“It’s a terrible, terrible illness.”
-Catherine Conners, mother, blogger and aunt to a meningitis survivor
UPDATE: A young teen in British Columbia, Canada, recently contracted and died from bacterial meningitis. Read more at the end of this article. He was vaccinated against one strain of it, but not the strain that killed him. You can read about his story here.
Meningitis is something that’s hard to think about, hard to write about, but, most of all, shatteringly hard to face in real life. Recently, we profiled Frankie Milley, a mother who lost her only child to the terrible disease and who has since made it her life’s mission to educate fellow parents about the dangers of meningitis, and to prevent other children from suffering the same devastating fate as her lost boy.
This summer, in her capacity as the founder of Meningitis Angels, a meningitis advocacy and support group, Milley has been attending stakeholders meetings around the country. Organized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the issue being debated is whether or not to add an infant meningitis vaccination to the required roster of childhood immunizations in the United States.
Our neighbors to the north will undergo a similar debate as Canadian officials explore the benefits of adding a new preventative vaccine, currently under review by Health Canada, to their own childhood immunization schedule.
“If there’s a way to prevent meningitis, then it should be prevented,” says Catherine Conners, a popular Canadian blogger and mother of two young children. Conners shared with me her own up-close and terrifying brush with the disease. Her nephew Zachary is one of the lucky ones who survived his bout with meningitis shortly before his 18th birthday, but she knows all too well that his happy ending a couple of years ago could so easily have been yet another tragedy.
“It was terrifying,” she says. “It struck very, very fast. We nearly lost him.”
Indeed, statistics were not in Zachary’s favor when he came down with what at first seemed to be merely the flu. “He just started feeling sick one day,” says Conners, and at first Zachary’s mom (Conners’ sister) didn’t think her son even needed to see a doctor. But, Conners says, “Zachary was really insistent with my sister that he needed to see a doctor.”
He was right.
In hindsight, Conners says, one of the most terrifying things for her sister was that meningitis “wasn’t something that was on her radar.”
Conners explains, “It was really only because he was so insistent that she took him to see someone. She might not have done anything — her inclination was ‘oh he’s an 18-year-old boy with the flu. If it’s not something you’re thinking about, you’re not necessarily going to treat those symptoms so seriously.”
Luckily Zachary was old enough — and knew himself well enough — to feel something was seriously wrong. Luckily his mother knew to listen to him. And even more luckily, doctors realized what was the matter fast enough to get him the help he needed. Zachary’s town in British Columbia didn’t have the resources needed to treat him, so he had to be medivaced to a facility equipped to save his life.
“Thankfully he reached help in time,” says Conners, “but it was touch and go for a long time… If he hadn’t gotten to the hospital when he did, if he hadn’t been medivaced to Vancouver he wouldn’t have made it, for sure.”
That’s a lot of luck. “It was a miracle,” say Conners. “It’s frightening to contemplate all the ways it could have gone wrong.”