NMA Advocates in New York

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Christina Blank

New York

T.E.A.M member (Daughter of Annette, 42 years old)

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.

Eilleen and John Boyle

New York

Parents of Caitlin (age 19 years)

Caitlin Boyle

Eilleen and John’s daughter, Caitlin, was a 19-year-old college student when she began feeling ill. She had a headache and neck pain, but they thought Caitlin couldn’t have meningitis because she had been vaccinated. Within hours, Caitlin was on a respirator, and after two days in a coma, she passed away from serogroup B meningococcal disease.

Eilleen and John didn’t know that, even though Caitlin was vaccinated, she wasn’t protected against all of the strains of meningococcal disease. At that time, there was no vaccine available to prevent serogroup B disease. There is now. They work with NMA to educate other families about meningitis symptoms and prevention.

Natasha Davis

New York

T.E.A.M. member ; sister of Rhett (age 20 years)

See Susan Davis (Florida).

Susan’s son, Rhett was a witty, fun-loving and intelligent college student who tragically lost his life in November 2006 to meningococcal disease, a serious, yet vaccine-preventable bacterial infection. Rhett had come home for Thanksgiving break to spend time with his family. Rhett returned to school on Monday to take his finals and to go on a scheduled snowboarding trip with friends before Christmas. However, after returning to school Rhett became ill with flu-like symptoms. Three days later, on a Thursday, Rhett passed away alone in his college apartment. The autopsy revealed Rhett had died from acute bacterial meningitis.

Molly DeJourdan

New York

M.O.M. of Kentin (age 1 year)

Kentin Davis

Molly DeJourdan’s son Kentin was a vibrant one-year-old when he tragically lost his life to meningococcal disease. The day after celebrating his first birthday, Kentin began acting fussy after dinner and felt warm. Molly discovered he was running a fever, and gave him Tylenol before putting him to bed for the night with a fever of only 100.2. The next day he was barely conscious. Kentin was immediately rushed to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with meningococcal disease. Doctors administered antibiotics to stop the spread of infection, but told Molly that Kentin’s condition was very serious. However, the next day, Kentin’s organs began to fail and he passed away in his father’s arms.

“It is important for parents to educate themselves about meningococcal disease and to be aware of its symptoms,” said Molly. “I encourage parents to talk to their child’s health care provider about vaccination and whether their children are at risk for this devastating disease.”

Deb Jerdo

New York

M.O.M. of Lindsay (age 18 years)

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.

Paige Kach

New York

M.O.M. of John (survived at age 19 years)

John Kach

One day in March 2000, Paige got the phone call every mother dreads: a hospital physician called to say her son John, a college freshman, had been diagnosed with meningococcemia. Paige knew that there was a vaccine available to protect against the disease, but was unable to locate it for John before left for college. As a result of the disease, doctors had to amputate both of John’s legs below the knee and all his fingers. John survived these obstacles to graduate from Salve Regina University and is currently developing his public speaking skills to share his story with others.

Mike LaForgia

New York

T.E.A.M. member (survived at age 39 years)

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.”

Marybeth Leeber

New York

M.O.M. of Lauren (survived at age 4 years)

Lauren 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.”

Sorcha McCrohan

New York

T.E.A.M. member (Daughter of Janet, age 62 years)

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.”

Peter Purdy

New York

T.E.A.M. Member (survived at age 67)

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.