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Why We Need To Talk About Meningitis

“What Type of World Do I Want To Live In By The Year 2030?” was this year’s theme at the Social Good Summit. Held for the past seven years at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, it has attracted speakers ranging from entrepreneurs, artists, and advocates to address the 17 Social Development Goals (SDG’s) as part of the global conversations held during UN Week. In addition to the speakers, I was fortunate enough to be with eight contributors from WMN(World Moms Network), who included me to attend events with them during the weekend. By the end of the Summit,  I felt that I had known these women all my life and it felt great to belong to this community of strong, amazing world changers who I call my friends.

The Social Good Summit has always been inspirational and this year was no different. From Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save The Children, who reiterated how crucial it is to aid refugees, because “Refugees are people with skills, great for opportunities” to Dr. Alaa Murabit, High Commissioner on Health, Employment and Economic Growth, who stresses the importance of gender equality in relation to universal health, because as she states, “when we have healthy countries, we have more money; when women are healthy, it benefits the economy and her community”.

Speakers like Chelsea Handler, Alec Baldwin and US Vice President Joe Biden with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, spoke about issues that moved them, urging us to do the same. For me, the issue that resonated resulted out of the Social Good Master Class which was an interactive gathering of leaders in technology, global development and social media, hours before the actual Summit. The speakers had the opportunity to discuss the various SDG’s they were committed to and the solutions they created or companies they were in collaboration with to attain these goals, While each speaker was passionate about their issues, the speakers who got my attention were Nick Springer, Jamie Schanbaum and Anne Geddes, who spoke about Meningitis.

I had heard of Meningitis, as someone who has had her child immunized over the years, but I was not as knowledgeable as I should have been. I admit that while I knew about  vaccines that prevent diseases such as Mumps, Measles, Chickenpox and Influenza, I was not cognizant of those for Meningitis. Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes, and typically caused by viral or bacterial infection. Of the two, bacterial meningitis is more dangerous because once a person is infected, the symptoms progress rapidly unless treated right away.

Meningitis is treatable by vaccine once it’s diagnosed but for Nick Springer and Jamie Schanbaum, the diagnosis came too late. Nick Springer was struck with bacterial meningococcal meningitis in 1999 at  the age of 14 while away at summer camp. He went from being a healthy teen one day  to being on his deathbed twenty hours later and hospitalized for ten months, battling fevers and multiple organ failures. Nineteen surgeries and four amputations later, against the odds, meningitis didn’t end his life. Since then he has become a Paralympian in wheelchair rugby and uses his experiences to talk about the importance of being vaccinated against meningitis.

Jamie Schanbaum was struck by meningococcal septicemia while attending college in 2008 at the age of twenty. Schanbaum was like any other  college student until she started feeling flu-like symptoms one day. As it got progressively worse over the next two days, she was rushed to the hospital, where it was determined that she had contracted Meningitis. The type Schanbaum had was more fatal because if infected her blood system. After being in the hospital for seven months, Schanbaum survived this disease but not without losing her fingers and legs. While she may have lost her limbs, she did not lose her spirit. Today, Schanbaum is a Paralympic Cyclist and a huge advocate on promoting awareness and prevention of Meningitis through her non-profit organization, The J.A.M.I.E. (Joint Advocacy of Meningococcal Information & Education) Group.

Why did their stories affect me? For someone who researches what I write about, it was a wake-up call that I almost missed. I never knew how deadly Meningitis was until I heard Springer & Schanbaum’s stories.

It may have been a coincidence, but a month prior to me attending the Summit, I received a letter from my daughter’s high school, informing us that unless our daughter received the Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine before school was back in session as a Senior, she would not be allowed to attend. I admit that when I received the letter, I was confused since I didn’t think it was a big deal. I was more concerned then that my child would miss out on her first day or week back as a Senior, instead of realizing how crucial this vaccine was. I applaud her school for having the foresight to insist that parents have their children vaccinated for this disease.

After hearing Springer & Schanbaum’s stories and how they survived and have thrived in spite of this deadly disease, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to hear their stories and be inspired by them. For me, this year’s Social Good Summit impressed upon me the importance of what I can do NOW, globally and personally. Jamie Schanbaum’s words, “Prevent what’s preventable” rings true, because we have the tools and the knowledge to prevent what’s preventable and create the kind of world we want by 2030. That’s my take on this, what’s yours?

 

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