World Meningitis Day

TIP-Logo-for-docswebversionIn honor of today, World Meningitis Day, and tomorrow, Texas Meningitis Awareness Day, The Immunization Partnership is honored to welcome guest blogger Patsy Schanbaum.  Patsy is the President of The J.A.M.I.E. Group, an organization whose mission is to help Jamie Schanbaum, meningitis survivor, share her experiences and knowledge so that all can avoid this vaccine-preventable disease.  Please join us on these important days of awareness and education.  Let’s all join hands in the fight against meningitis!  Read on to hear a mother’s story that no parent should miss and learn what you can do to protect your children and loved ones against this disease.  Thank you Patsy for all that you do!


On April 24- 25 we will be recognizing and advocating for Meningitis Awareness with World Meningitis Day and Texas Meningitis Awareness Day.  You ask – Why and who am I to be writing about this horrible, but yet vaccine preventable disease?  I am the mother of a child who survived Meningitis, unfortunately most people who are stricken with Meningitis are not so lucky and do not survive.  My daughter Jamie survived but at a cost.

JamieSchanbaumOn November 13th 2008, my daughter Jamie Schanbaum, who by the way was a second year student at the University of Texas Austin, was rushed to the Hospital just not feeling good – at all. Two days later, Jamie and our family learned she had contracted meningococcal septicemia. This disease is similar to meningitis. Instead of infiltrating the brain and spinal cord, the bacterium infects the blood. Meningococcal septicemia has a higher fatality rate than typical meningitis. The state health department informed us that one in ten people is a carrier of this particular bacterium which resides in the nose or throat. You can have it and not be affected by it, but something as simple as a cold or a stomach virus can cause this bacteria to work its way into your blood system, which is what happened to Jamie. Jamie survived, though sadly she lost both legs below the knee and all her fingers. They had to be amputated as a direct result of her infection.

As the mother of 4 children (Jamie is my youngest) I had followed the advice of my pediatrician and had my children vaccinated with all recommended vaccines.  I’m educated, I’m smart and I know it all – or so I thought – but more importantly I assumed my pediatrician knew it all.  Not only was I not educated about the meningitis vaccine but I definitely knew nothing of the horrific causes of this disease.  It’s very important as parents that we become knowledgeable on all the vaccines, diseases and recommendations.  Make an educated decision on protecting your children.

It’s been a little over 4 years since Jamie was stricken with meningitis and life as we once knew has changed but in most causes for the best.  We have passed a law in Texas requiring all entering students to have the meningitis vaccine – The Jamie Schanbaum/Nicolis Williams Act.  Jamie is a gold and silver medalist on the US Paralympic Cycling Team and she is back in school at UT (Hook em’) and living life fully as a 24 year old.  Jamie and I do our part to inform and educate to insure that parents also make an informed and educated decision on vaccination.   My hope is that every prevent illness by protecting your loved ones with vaccine preventable diseases.

Tragedy and Loss

Things happen.  Unexpected, unplanned accidents and tragedies are unfortunately a part of our lives.   In the past few days alone we have all been reminded of that.  Monday afternoon we were all shocked to hear about the senseless and cowardly bombings at the Boston Marathon, resulting in the deaths of 3 people; one of whom was an 8-year-old child.  Then Wednesday evening news of an explosion in West, Texas that continues to have an increasing death toll filled our homes.  I had my own personal scare this week when what should have been an uneventful morning taking my daughter to a doctor’s appointment turned into 2 wrecked vehicles, an ambulance ride, and 8 hours in the hospital to monitor me in my 37th week of pregnancy.  Fortunately, in my situation, we all walked away safe and healthy.  The same cannot be said for the other tragedies I mentioned.

I bring these up to serve as a reminder that the unexpected happens.  Some things you can’t prepare for.  Cowards found a way to turn this year’s Boston Marathon into what should have been a day filled with celebrations of accomplishment into heartache, fear and, terror.  In West, Texas, no one expected to end their day searching for loved ones, evacuating a city, or dealing with the loss of life, but yet it happened in the blink of an eye.

Loss is loss and tragedy is tragedy no matter how it happens.  That being said, these situations are heart-breaking and a reminder that we have to do what we can, when we can, to protect ourselves and our loved ones.  Being at the wrong place, at the wrong time is all it takes to change a life forever.  Please understand that I am in no way trying to compare either of these events to one another or to vaccines.  That is truly not my intention.  My sole purpose in writing this today is simply to say that the loss or injury of a loved one is tragic no matter the circumstances surrounding it.  I want to make it clear, my words are simply meant to encourage you to take advantage of an opportunity to protect yourself when you can.  I’m not promoting or speaking about one vaccine or another.  I write this only to encourage you to stay safe, in every aspect of your life, which does include staying up-to-date on vaccinations.

My heart goes out to all those who have been affected in Boston and in West, Texas.  It is so senseless and so heartbreaking to hear story after story of suffering and fear.  Stay safe people and remember to protect yourself and prevent what is preventable.

Lying in Wait…

As I child I still remember my Mom talking about some funny named, horribly painful rash my grandmother had on her leg.  I now know that what she had was shingles.  I admittedly didn’t know much about the disease until recently, but as my parents get closer to turning 60, the recommended age for vaccination according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), I became much more interested in learning about the virus.

For approximately 1 million Americans, the chickenpox they endured as a child will return in in the form of shingles each year and vaccination is the only method of prevention.  Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus that first presented itself as chickenpox.  Once this viral infection has infected the body, it does not leave.  It may lie dormant and never present a problem after the initial infection, but there is no guarantee.  It is estimated that people in their sixties run a thirty percent chance of developing the vaccine-preventable disease while nearly half of people in their eighties will be affected according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  It is also worth noting that people with compromised immune systems due to conditions such as cancer, organ transplants, and autoimmune disorders are at an increased risk of developing shingles.

shingles_rash_defaultShingles usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body that begins to blister and then scab in 7-10  days, clearing up in 2-4  weeks.  Shingles can cause fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach, and in rare cases the rash can be widespread and can even affect the eye, causing loss of vision in extreme cases.  Some unfortunate victims may suffer from postherpetic neuralgia, or pain caused by nerve damage, for weeks, months, or even years.  This nerve damage can actually cause skin to be so sensitive that the touch of clothing can cause excruciating pain.

As is the case with most vaccine-preventable diseases, passing on immunization has a broader impact than you may think.  Shingles IS contagious and CAN be spread from an affected person to babies, children, or even adults who have not had OR been fully vaccinated against chickenpox.   A person without natural or acquired (immunized) immunity to the virus will not develop shingles, instead chickenpox will be the ailment that causes time off from school, work, or even a hospital stay should complications arise.

For my grandmother, shingles was not a one-time event.  She developed shingles, not once, not twice, but three times and suffered years of pain caused by nerve damage.  For her, there was no preventative measure as the vaccine was not available, but you have a choice.  You can avoid the painful, preventable infection.  Don’t suffer unnecessarily.  Get vaccinated today and save yourself, and possibly someone else, from a vaccine-preventable disease!

Using Our Voices

I was very excited to attend TIP’s annual Legislative Day this past Wednesday, and to be completely honest, I had no clue how our legislative process really worked.  I took my mandatory Bill to Law6 hours of government classes in college and was glad to be done with it.  I have always been grateful for and exercised my right to vote in both state and federal elections and have respect for the work of our elected officials, but never fully understood the intricacies of how a bill becomes a law.  This experience changed that.  I had no idea just how important of a role constituents play in the process of our government.  Up to this point I thought my voice was silent after I cast my ballot.  What else was there to do?  I’m here to tell you, there is MUCH more that you can do.  After spending a day at our State Capitol meeting with the people who we have elected to make decisions on our behalf, I found time and time again that my words meant something.   The policy experts for these elected officials not only sat and listened as we discussed the House and Senate Bills we were there in support of, but showed genuine interest and concern for the safety and well-being of Texans through the use of immunizations.

There is one moment of the day that stands out above all the rest.  As I was sitting in a Senator’s office with my fellow vaccine advocates, we began discussing an amendment to Senate Bill 62 which deals with vaccination against bacterial meningitis of entering students at public and private colleges and universities.   During that meeting the father of Nicolis Williams, a college student who tragically lost his life to the deadly disease in 2011 was in the room.  When he told the Senator’s health advisor his story, her jaw literally dropped.  The look of shock and disbelief on her face was evident.  She had no idea that meningitis could strike so quickly and have such devastating consequences.  What we expected to be a ten minute meeting quickly turned into 30 minutes.   This assistant realized not only the importance of this bill, but also the critical need for vaccination to prevent another tragedy.  The story and the facts that we shared that day made the consequences of vaccine-preventable disease very real and we made an impact.

megaphoneI am here to tell you that your voice really does make a difference.   Contact your Senators and your Representatives.  Let them know that you are not only aware of the issues, but that you want your voice to be heard!  I am proud to say that mine was heard and I was able to play a part in helping make our state a safer place to live.  I look forward to attending this great event again next year, but I certainly don’t plan to remain silent until that time!