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How Meningitis Forever Altered My Life

The most recent alert regarding a surge in contagious meningococcal cases serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of maintaining vigilance towards vaccinations.

Vaccinations play a vital role in preventing the majority of meningococcal diseases, similar to the type I contracted during my time as a sophomore at Texas Tech University. This illness resulted in an eight-day coma for me, leading to permanent neurological dysfunction and legal blindness.

I was unfamiliar with meningitis until it drastically altered my life. At 19 years old, my fraternity brother discovered me unconscious on my bedroom floor, leading to an emergency hospital trip. Emerging from the coma over a week later, I found myself surrounded by tubes, disoriented in darkness. The experience felt like a sudden blackout, leaving me struggling to find the light switch. After spending 21 days in the hospital and undergoing months of rehabilitation, I managed to relearn basic functions like eating, smiling, and walking. However, my vision never recovered, with complete loss in my right eye and severe impairment in my left eye (20300 vision). Nerve damage also affected my bladder function permanently, necessitating the use of a catheter to this day.

For a significant period, I believed that having children was an unattainable dream. Despite this, I am now a proud father of three lovely girls. Understanding the fragility of life, I urge parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against meningococcal disease.

The meningitis vaccine was not included in the recommended vaccination schedule during my upbringing, a change that occurred approximately two decades ago. Since then, a consistent and proven vaccination regimen has significantly reduced the incidence of invasive meningococcal disease in the U.S. population. However, this progress is currently under threat.

Meningitis, characterized by inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, can be swiftly fatal in its bacterial form, as in my case. It has a fatality rate of 10 to 15 out of 100 individuals and leaves 1 in 5 survivors with long-term disabilities such as brain damage, deafness, or amputations.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering revising the adolescent vaccination schedule in a manner that may diminish crucial protection for children. Such alterations could have unintended and devastating consequences, potentially resulting in reduced vaccine coverage and increased rates of meningococcal disease.

The current recommendation suggests administering a vaccine at ages 11 to 12, with a booster at 16, a strategy that has been widely adopted and proven successful across the U.S. However, the proposed revision could eliminate the initial vaccine for 11- and 12-year-olds, retaining only a single dose at age 16.

This potential change in national guidelines may lead to varying state-level requirements, potentially disrupting the progress made in combating meningococcal disease. The existing recommendations have played a significant role in reducing cases, as evidenced by CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services data.

While cases of invasive meningococcal disease are infrequent, sporadic occurrences or outbreaks, like the current one in Texas resulting in the death of an unvaccinated individual, emphasize the necessity of safeguarding adolescents. This age group faces a heightened risk of this severe and life-altering disease, serving as a primary source of transmission to other demographics.

Maintaining the current guidelines is essential to ensuring continued protection for all individuals.

[John B. Grimes is an insurance professional residing in Frisco. He advocates for meningitis awareness and hosts a podcast titled “Destiny Is Debatable,” with an upcoming book by the same name.]