NMA Advocates in New York

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Nick Springer

New York

T.E.A.M. member (survived at age 14 years)

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.

Carol Tufano

New York

M.O.M. of Heather (survived at age 18 years)

Heather 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.

Heather Tufano

New York

T.E.A.M. member (survived at age 18 years)

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.

Patti Wukovits

New York

M.O.M. of Kimberly (age 17 years)

Kim Coffey

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.

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