Guest post by Tama Lee, NMA former board member and Mom on Meningitis
Sometimes memories just seem to hit you out of nowhere. I was remembering sitting in my son’s cafeteria; it was October 1987. They were assembling all the kindergarteners at the first PTA meeting of the year. They paraded all these little kids in announcing the Class of 2000 while playing the song “Space Odyssey”. I remember all the parents laughing and probably thinking the same thing I was – how long it would be before that year of graduation from high school.
I didn’t know then that I only had just 12 short years left with my son, Casey. I didn’t know then that he would not be there for his high school graduation. I didn’t know then that he would die from a rare disease. And I didn’t know then that there was a vaccine that could have prevented his death. March 6th will be the 12th anniversary of my son’s death. He died from meningococcal meningitis.
All I can do now is tell others so they can be aware of this deadly disease and the vaccine that can protect them. Now you know. What will you do?
Last night I talked to a mom who lost her 8 year old son to bacterial meningitis five years ago. She was crying, still so devastated, so frustrated that a vaccine wasn’t recommended for her son, even though a vaccine was licensed by the FDA that would have protected her son. She asked what she could do protect other families.
She believes, as I believe, that if there is a safe vaccine that can save even one life, then parents need to have access to it. You just don’t know when your family will be the unlucky one, who will be hit by this horrible disease. It is so easy to go through life with blinders on, as I did, thinking that once my son was in college, he was on his way. I worried about car accidents, cancer, but never about infectious diseases. After all, my son had all of the recommended vaccines at the time. Once you have gone through what my family has, you see life so differently. You see all of the potential hazards. You want to be over-protective with your remaining children. And, most of all, you don’t want what happened to you, to happen to other families.
My heart breaks when I talk to moms like the one I talked to last night, because I have no words to take away their pain. I don’t have words to take away my pain. All I can do is listen and encourage then to try to make a difference by sharing their stories and encouraging vaccination to as many people as they can.
There are 365 days in a year, and on one of those days, April 20, my older son died from meningococcal disease. Since Evan died, almost 14 years ago, I have talked to countless numbers of parents whose children have also been affected by meningitis. Sometimes I talk to people who have lost a child, and then I talk to another family who lost their child the same day. I always thought, “wow, what a coincidence, for a rare disease.”
Just the other night, I was talking with a 21 year old woman who lost her twin sister 4 years ago, and her sister died the same day that my son did, April 20th. It gave me chills, to think about another family starting that endless grieving process. It made me wonder how many more people are out there, hating when a certain date rolls around each year. Of course, you think of your lost child every day, but when you hit an anniversary date, it’s just a more concrete reminder of the days and years ticking by without that person you loved.
I just hope that in the future, I won’t be talking to so many families. I hope and pray that more families will vaccinate their children, not only against meningitis, but all vaccine-preventable diseases. I hope for no more sad “anniversary dates” for our children. Each one of us can make a difference, and together, united, by vaccinating, we can make a huge dent in childhood diseases. Please join me in doing your part.
As most of you know, I lost my son, Evan, to bacterial meningitis almost 14 years ago. Before then, we were a typical family. We were busy with raising our two boys, taking them from soccer to basketball to baseball practices, helping with homework, and enjoying being a family. When my boys went off to college, I did not celebrate being an “empty nester.” I loved having the boys around. I loved being a mom, having the cocoon of my family close by.
I did everything I knew to do as a parent, to protect my children. I took them for routine medical visits, made sure they had their vaccinations, sports physicals, dental visits. None of that was an effort – it was just what I expected to do as a parent, what I wanted to do as a parent.
I don’t understand parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, or who think that “alternative” vaccination schedules are appropriate. Don’t these parents know that they are playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette with their children’s lives? How would these parents feel if that precious life was taken from them, and a vaccine could have made a difference? How fast would all of that anti-vaccine rhetoric disappear?
I don’t want to even think about that happening to a family, because I know the years of unending grief when you lose a child. I know how you love a child so much, that when that child is gone, you will never get over it. I want all parents to protect their children and follow the science. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are life-savers. That life saved could be the life of your child.
I saw this article and it just saddened me tremendously, to think of parents suffering as their children fight this awful disease.
I lost my son to meningococcal meningitis, so I know how deadly it can be. Even though the CDC does not recommend vaccination until 11-12 years of age, with a booster dose in five years, there are vaccines LICENSED BY THE FDA for everyone 9 months of age and up. My 2 and 3 year old grandchildren have been vaccinated, because my surviving son saw the devastation this disease did to his older brother. The vaccine is safe and effective. If you have it younger, you will just need a booster dose sooner. It all gets down to your level of comfort. I am not comfortable knowing this disease has already struck my family. Visit the National Meningitis Association for more information. Probably within the year, there will be vaccines licensed by the FDA for younger infants.
Sweeter than candy are your children. Valentine’s Day is fun for kids, taking Valentine’s Day cards to school, passing them out, eating the little candy hearts. I remember the day from when I was a little girl, and I remember it from a perspective as a mom. This year I get to experienc the day as a grandmother, as I’m baking Valentine’s Day cookies with my grandkids this weekend. However, it’s just one day. You want the sweetness of your children to last for many, many years, and that is why I keep encouraging vaccinations, for infants through adults. I know I want many more years to hug my family and share a heart full of love with them. Don’t let infectious diseases like meningitis, pertussis, and HPV take a toll on your family.
This week I’ve been at the Hanger Prosthetics Annual Convention, as a speaker and exhibitor, to raise awareness about meningitis and to talk about the difficulties that meningitis survivors who needed amputations endure. I’ve talked to many prosthetists and amputees. Today I heard the saddest story. A 5 month old baby in Latvia was deliberately burned by her mother, and the baby suffered such severe burns, that she lost both legs and one arm. Fortunately, she was adopted by a loving family from the U.S. at 18 months of age, but the girl’s scars, both inside and out, will last forever. As a parent, I just can’t understand how a parent could do this. I don’t understand how you just don’t love your children with every ounce of love in your body. And by loving your children, that also means protecting them from harm, and to me, that means vaccinating your children. This little girl, who is now 12 and very mobile on her prosthetics, has been vaccinated for meningitis. While I was reeling from the story her adoptive mother told me, I was gladdened to her that this mother was giving this girl all the love and care she needs. We have the opportunity to protect our children, and that is why we must all be Parents Who Protect.