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Christina Blank

Christina was just 12 years old when she lost her mother, Annette, to bacterial meningitis in 2002. Her brother, Justin, was only 3. That January, following a brief illness, Annette complained of a headache before heading to bed. In the middle of the night, Christina’s father found Annette lying on the floor unconscious and immediately called an ambulance. At the hospital doctors tested Annette’s spinal fluid and determined that she had meningococcal disease. After a few days in the hospital, she passed away.

Christina still misses her mother every day. She did not know her mother’s death could have been prevented with a vaccine. Now, she is dedicated to raising awareness about prevention.

Sorcha McCrohan

Sorcha was only 11 years old when she lost her mother, Janet, to meningitis. Janet was a healthy and active mother of four in May 2010 when she suddenly became ill. She went to seek treatment at a hospital for severe back pain and was sent home with pain medication. Two days later, her husband found her unconscious and called 911. She returned to the hospital where doctors performed a lumbar puncture and confirmed she had bacterial meningitis. After two weeks in the hospital, Janet died.

Sorcha did not know her mother’s death could have been prevented with a vaccine. She now works with the NMA and founded a club at her high school to educate students and parents about meningitis prevention.

“On the day my mom died, I promised her I would spread awareness about this disease so that no one else in my community would have to suffer the same pain as my family.”

Deb Jerdo

Deb’s daughter, Lindsay, had just celebrated her 18th birthday and started working at a ski resort when she lost her life to meningococcal disease. Deb was Christmas shopping when Lindsay called saying she had a headache and was going to bed. Lindsay became feverish and her condition worsened during the night. Deb assumed it was the flu. The next afternoon, Deb called 911 when she noticed Lindsay was lethargic and had a rash on her legs. Her doctors knew it was meningitis after a spinal tap, but could not transfer her by helicopter to the University of Vermont Medical Center due to freezing rain. They intubated her. Her kidneys began to fail. On the morning of December 24th, Lindsay passed away.

Deb is dedicated to keeping the memory of her daughter alive and raising awareness of this deadly disease and a vaccine that could have saved Lindsay’s life; she urges all parents to vaccinate their children against meningitis.

Patti Wukovits

One afternoon in 2012, Patti’s daughter Kimberly, a high school senior, alerted Patti that she was feeling feverish and achy. Kim’s doctor thought she had the flu and asked them to come in the next day. By morning, Kim had a rash on her ankle. She was rushed from the doctor to the ER, but her organs were already failing. Nine days later, Patti and her husband John had to say goodbye. Kim passed away just one week before her senior prom and graduation.

Kim was vaccinated. While vaccines available at the time covered most strains of the disease, they did not cover serogroup B meningococcal disease, which is what Kim had. Patti is grateful that there is now a vaccine available to protect against serogroup B and hopes it will be used broadly. She works with NMA to educate others about meningitis symptoms and prevention.

Heather Tufano

Heather Tufano was an 18 year old freshman attending college in New York City when she contracted meningococcemia. Her symptoms began at 11 o’clock at night with fever, chills and pain in her joints, so extreme that she could not walk. By early the next morning a black and blue rash spread quickly all over her legs. She was immediately brought to the intensive care unit at a local hospital to find out she had a 5% chance of living that night.

Heather was in the hospital for 3 months and underwent roughly 8 surgeries, including the amputation of her right foot and 2 fingers. Once she left the hospital, Heather had to learn how to walk again by going to physical therapy for several months. Since she left the hospital in January of 2005, Heather returned to school and has now graduated college. She joined NMA to educate and create awareness about the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease.

Carol Tufano

Carol Tufano’s daughter, Heather, was a freshman in college when she contracted meningococcal disease. In October 2005, Heather called her mother to tell her she had been vomiting and felt weak. Concerned, her father, Jerry, went to check on her. When he arrived, he found that Heather could not walk and was developing a purplish rash. Jerry called Carol who as a nurse recognized the symptoms of the potentially fatal bacterial infection. She told her husband to rush Heather to a hospital. By the time they arrived, Heather’s legs had begun to turn black and her kidneys began to fail, causing septic shock. Doctors had to amputate Heather’s right leg below the knee and two of her fingers in order to save her life.

“I want all parents to be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease and prevention methods so they can make an informed decision on how to best protect their children,” said Carol.

Nick Springer

While away at a Massachusetts summer camp in 1999, 14-year old Nick Springer contracted a rare, but potentially deadly infection called meningococcal disease. Although he survived, he endured the amputation of his hands and his legs below the knees. He also lost hearing in his left ear as a result of the disease.

Nick and his family didn’t know about the disease or about the lifestyle factors common among adolescents and young adults that increase their risk. These include crowded living situations, such as sleep-away camps. Nor did they know meningococcal disease is potentially vaccine preventable.

On August 6, Nick complained of not feeling well, and he stayed overnight in the camp infirmary. By morning, he was vomiting severely and had a rash on his torso. Realizing Nick had a serious bacterial infection, the camp immediately administered an IV antibiotic and transported Nick to the nearest hospital. There, Nick was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis and was transferred to a second hospital better equipped to deal with his condition.

The emergency doctor at Berkshire Medical Center called Nick’s parents to say that he was very sick and was being airlifted to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Nick was then put into a drug-induced coma that would last for nearly two months.

Nick has since recovered and continues to stay active by competing in events like wheelchair rugby with the USA Paralympics team. His team won a gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics. Nick also helps in the rehabilitation process for those with new injuries and teaches children in wheelchairs.

Peter Purdy

One morning 10 years ago, Peter woke up feeling very ill. By that evening he was in a coma. Peter’s wife took him to the ER at a small rural hospital. Although meningococcal disease is often misdiagnosed, Peter was fortunate that the ER staff recognized its symptoms and began treatment. Nonetheless, Peter lost both my legs to the disease, beginning a new chapter in his life as an amputee.

Peter’s work was in health, and yet he knew nothing about this disease or its potential prevention. Peter strongly supports the work of NMA which continues to reach out across the country to educate others so they won’t have a story like his.

Marybeth Leeber

The morning before Halloween, Marybeth’s daughter Lauren had a fever and was lethargic so she brought her to the doctor. The doctor told Marybeth to take her home to rest. Once home, Lauren was vomiting and her fever was getting higher. When a purplish rash began to develop, Marybeth called her pediatrician again who told her to bring Lauren to the hospital immediately. Once at the hospital, doctors administered antibiotics but Lauren’s kidneys began to fail and she was having trouble breathing. Lauren was placed in a coma for two weeks, and doctors had to amputate Lauren’s right hand, the fingertips on her left hand and both her legs below the knee in order to save her life. Months later, Lauren underwent a kidney transplant due to complications from the disease.

“We are very fortunate that Lauren survived this disease, since so many families are not as lucky,” said Marybeth. “Parents need to be aware of meningococcal disease and speak with their health care providers about protecting their children through vaccination.”

Mike LaForgia

Michael LaForgia was a 40-year-old father of three when he contracted meningococcal disease. In December 2004, Michael was celebrating New Year’s with his family in Maine. He woke in the middle of the night with an excruciating headache, nausea and chills. Thinking he had the flu, the family cut the trip short and returned to New York. The next night, Michael’s wife saw a purplish rash on his face. When he became too weak to walk, she took him to the hospital.Michael was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit when he began to have trouble breathing and his organs began failing. Doctors did not expect him to survive the night. By the time he was transferred to another hospital, Michael’s face was unrecognizable – it was swollen and turning black, along with his limbs. Doctors gave Michael antibiotics and after eight days in a coma, he began to improve. Michael survived, but endured the amputation of his right leg below the knee and part of his left foot. He spent two months in the hospital and five months in rehabilitation.

Despite these obstacles Michael, who was an avid runner prior to contracting meningococcal disease, has returned to competing in marathons and triathlons. Michael ran the New York City marathon twice before becoming ill (2002 & 2004) and twice as an amputee (2009 & 2015). “Meningococcal meningitis changed my life,” says Michael. “My goal is to share my story and educate people about meningococcal disease and the importance of vaccination, so that no one else has to experience this devastating disease.”