Susan Valley’s daughter, Rachel Perry, had graduated high school and was interested in studying childhood development in college when she contracted meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection that can strike adolescents and college students.
In December 2003, Rachel and her mother were preparing for the holidays. On Thursday, Rachel began to experience flu-like symptoms and Susan believed her daughter had a sinus infection, but the symptoms progressed rapidly. By the end of the day, Rachel told her mother that her body felt heavy and they went to the hospital.
Upon arrival at the emergency room, Rachel’s hands and lips were showing signs of the purplish rash that appears when the bacteria enter the blood stream. Doctors were unable to diagnose Rachel with meningococcal disease at that time and Susan took her daughter home.
On Christmas Day, one day after their initial visit to the hospital, Susan found her daughter unconscious in her room and called paramedics. Rachel revived and taken to the hospital, but it was too late. Rachel died two days later of a potentially vaccine-preventable disease.
Susan joined the National Meningitis Association’s “Moms on Meningitis” program to help educate families in the Antrim, New Hampshire-area about the dangers of meningococcal disease and the importance of prevention, including immunization.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but adolescents and young adults are increased risk for contracting the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12 with a booster at age 16. CDC also recommends permissive use of meningococcal vaccination against serogroup B at ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years.
“I learned about the vaccine for meningococcal disease two weeks after Rachel’s death,” said Susan. “I now hope to educate others about the benefits of vaccination in preventing this horrible disease.”