NMA Advocates in California

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Dell Miller

California

T.E.A.M. member (Age 31 years)

In January 2015, Dell was on the beach in Laguna, California when he began to feel pain in his limbs, joints and muscles. Within 10 hours, he was covered in a purplish rash. His partner rushed him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles where he was placed in intensive care. Dell was diagnosed with serogroup B meningococcal disease, and was fighting for his life.

He spent nearly three months in the hospital followed by two months at home in recovery. Five months after his initial diagnosis, he decided he would have to have his legs amputated below the knee.

Less than a year after becoming sick, Dell returned to work as color director and master colorist at Spoke & Weal LA, learned how to walk again with his prosthetics, and started to compete in CrossFit competitions. As a T.E.A.M. member, Dell helps raise awareness about meningococcal disease and its prevention. He also helps support adaptive athletes around the world.

Amy Purdy

California

T.E.A.M. member (survived at age 19 years)

Amy had a promising career as a massage therapist ahead of her and was active in snowboarding and other outdoor activities when she contracted a serious bacterial infection called meningococcal disease. Amy was a healthy active teenager and never thought she would come so close to losing her life due to a potentially vaccine-preventable disease.

One day during the summer of 1999, at age 19, Amy called her mother to tell her she wasn’t feeling well; she had a stiff neck and felt extremely tired. Later that day, Amy began vomiting and became so ill that she had to be rushed to the emergency room by her cousin.

When Amy arrived at the hospital, her condition deteriorated quickly and was soon fighting for her life. Following a blood culture, the doctors diagnosed Amy with meningococcemia, a form of meningococcal disease the causes poisoning of the blood system. Amy’s organs began to fail and doctors put her into a medically-induced coma to help her body fight the infection.

Amy’s condition slowly began to improve, but she had a long road to recovery ahead of her. She suffered from severe gangrene in her legs and feet and doctors had to amputate both of her legs below the knee. She also lost hearing in her left ear. Finally, the infection caused major organ damage and as a result, she had her kidney and spleen removed. Nearly two years later, Amy received a kidney transplant from her father.

Suzanne Schoelen

California

M.O.M. of Braden (age 10 years)

Braden Schoelen

Suzanne’s son Braden was 10-years-old when he lost his life to meningococcal disease. In January 2010, Braden woke up with a headache, fever and pain in his arms and legs. Minutes later, he began to vomit, so thinking her son had the flu, Suzanne kept him home from school. By early afternoon he was too weak to walk, and had become disoriented and confused. Suzanne then noticed a small rash on his ear. Braden was taken to a local hospital and emergency room doctors recognized the rash as a telltale symptom of meningococcemia. They rushed him to isolation where he was placed on antibiotics. Despite doctors’ efforts, Braden went into cardiac arrest and lost his battle to meningococcal disease just 17 hours after the initial onset of symptoms.

“I didn’t know about meningococcal disease before it struck my son,” said Suzanne “I encourage parents to educate themselves about this disease and speak to their children’s healthcare providers about vaccination.”

Greg and Laurie

Laurie and Greg Stelzer

California

Parents of Sara (age 18 years)

Sara Stelzer

Laurie and Greg’s daughter Sara was a freshman at San Diego State University when she called home one evening to say she didn’t feel well. Despite feeling sick, she attended class the next day to deliver a speech. The following day, she developed a rash of small purplish red spots on her legs and was rushed to the hospital. When Laurie and Greg arrived at the hospital, just 40 hours after that first call, Sara was in a coma and on a ventilator. Days later, she passed away from serogroup B meningococcal disease.

Sara had been vaccinated, but at the time, available vaccines only protected against four of the five serogroups of meningococcal disease. Now vaccines are available to protect against all major serogroups. Laurie and Greg work with NMA to spread awareness about the symptoms of meningitis and available vaccination options.

Casey Stewart

California

T.E.A.M. Member (survived at age 26)

Michelle Stewart

In 1999, Casey was attending culinary school in California when he began to experience flu-like symptoms including a severe headache, sensitivity to light as well as back and neck pain.

Casey was admitted to University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center where doctors diagnosed him with pneumococcal meningitis. After recovering in the hospital, Casey began pain management therapy and physical rehabilitation. He lost the use of his lower extremities and continues to experience pain and long-term medical issues from this disease.

In 2004, Casey married his wife Michelle. Starting in 2007, Casey and Michelle hold an annual golf tournament to raise money to educate others about the disease in support of NMA.

Robbin Thibodeaux

California

M.O.M. of Thomas (age 19 years)

Thomas Kent

Robbin Thibodeaux’s 19-year-old son, Thomas Kent, was an active college student with a passion for surfing when he contracted a serious and deadly bacterial infection, called meningococcal disease. On Christmas Eve 2005, Robbin received a call urging her to rush to the hospital because her son was falling in and out of consciousness. Robbin had spoken to her son, who had been sick, earlier in the week, but thought he just had the flu. Once she arrived at the hospital, Robbin learned that Thomas had been diagnosed with meningococcal disease. Thomas passed away on Christmas day, just hours after experiencing his first symptoms.

Kyla Winters

California

T.E.A.M. member (survived at age 37 years)

In the summer of 2009, Kyla suddenly became ill and was rushed to the ER where doctors quickly gave her antibiotics. Doctors confirmed she had bacterial meningitis and told her family she had a 10 percent chance of survival. One complication followed another – respiratory and kidney failure, extremely low blood pressure and several cardiac arrests. Kyla was in the ICU for six weeks and remained in the hospital for almost four months. In order to save her life, doctors amputated both her legs below the knee and all of her fingers.

After leaving the hospital, Kyla’s pregnant twin sister, Liana, moved with her husband and young son to San Diego so they could care for her. Kyla was on dialysis for ten hours every night and had several hand surgeries. In 2010, Kyla received a kidney transplant from Liana. Today, Kyla educates others about meningococcal vaccination and raises awareness about organ donation.

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