Meningitis vaccination laws geared to prevent spread of dire illnesses
By Deb Silverthorn
If at first you succeed to some extent, keep pushing the envelope. Not a quote that can be attributed directly, but these words define the strength, persistence and resolve of former Dallas resident, Jamie Schanbaum.
On Nov. 12, 2008, Schanbaum woke up at a friend’s home, feeling more than not right. “I went home and couldn’t stop feeling cold and nauseous,” said the former Temple Shalom member. “By the time my sister took me to the hospital I couldn’t even stand on my own.” Schanbaum was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicemia, a diagnosis that would change the course of her life.
That diagnosis of an incredibly rare form of meningitis, an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, almost ended Schanbaum’s life. But with determination, spirit, incredible medical care and an angel on her shoulder, the UT Austin junior came through. Having survived multiple surgeries, the loss of all 10 fingers and the amputation of both of legs below the knee, Schanbaum holds her head up high and is unwavering in her belief that other students shouldn’t suffer her fate.
In April 2009, Schanbaum’s determination, along with her family and State Senators Wendy Davis and Eddie Lucio, Jr., came to fruition with the passage of the Jamie Schanbaum Act which required, as of January 1, 2010, bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campuses in Texas.
“That was only a start,” said Schanbaum, who smiles proud at the chance to announce a new law, the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act (SB 1107). This law which goes into effect in January 2012, requires that all students under the age of 30 who enroll in any Texas college campus for the first time, be vaccinated against meningitis.
College students are especially vulnerable to the disease because new students are coming together from different places and share close living quarters. Meningococcal disease is a deadly bacterial infection spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks, utensils and kissing or other person-to-person contact. Symptoms of the disease show up initially as the flu, however, the disease spreads so quickly that about 10 percent of sufferers die from it, often within hours of the onset of symptoms even if they have begun to receive treatment. According to the Texas Medical Association, as many as 15 college students die each year from meningitis, with some 1,500 cases of meningococcal disease diagnosed annually in the United States.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which provides vaccine advice to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has furthermore presented information that the meningitis vaccine, previously thought to be effective for at least 10 years, is now thought to be so for less than five. Recommendations have been made that children, many of whom are vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12, should receive a booster vaccine at the age of 16. This additional booster is aimed to protect these youth through the highest risk period up to age 21 years.
Nicolis Williams is a Texas A&M student who died on February 11 of this year, shortly after contracting meningitis. In his memory, and in Schanbaum’s honor, Senators Davis and Lucio and State Representative Charlie Howard, came together, to elaborate on the original Schanbaum Act.
Howard, from the Williams’ home city of Houston, was introduced to the family after their loss. When they learned of the Jamie Schanbaum Act and that family’s involvement in pursuing an extension to support all students, the Williamses wanted to get involved.
“As we realized that our son wasn’t going to survive this terrible disease, we looked at each other and said that no one should ever have to go through this,” said Nicolis’ father, Greg Williams who, with Nicolis’ mother Arlene, and sister Tiffany, intend to carry the memory of the economics major through this endeavor. “This is a senseless death. I was beyond consolation but I wanted to do something. There had to be something we could do.”
Williams met Jamie and Patsy Schanbaum as both families were testifying to push through the Act. During the lengthy process, he realized the chance “to project our message. We didn’t know about Jamie’s story — or the severity of this medical issue before, or our son would be alive. Getting the word out is now our mission.”
“So many think this kind of tragedy will hit one in a million. There’s no reason for us, or any family, to be that one,” added Arlene Williams. “This is a lasting devastation. The story must get out because, when it’s too late — it is TOO late!”
For Schanbaum, it almost was too late — and while she survives and continues to fight, the meningitis took its toll.
“It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be well and home soon. I had no idea that seven months in hospitals, more than 50 ‘dives’ in a hyperbaric chamber, which saved my life, at least 15 surgeries and skin grafts and more, were in my immediate future,” she said. “All because I missed out on the vaccine. People HAVE to get the vaccine. I don’t want anyone else going through this, and I don’t want any other parents to have to watch their child have to suffer, or worse, to watch them die.”
In fighting her own battles, Schanbaum has earned the respect and pride of her family — along with the love they have for her. “I’m so proud of Jamie — and how she has handled herself, and the responsibilities she’s taken on to becoming the face of this disease, from the start,” said mom Patsy Schanbaum. “She will save lives, I’m sure she already has.”
“Jamie has a purpose in life and that is to make sure that everyone knows to have this vaccine. How strong this miracle child is, and how well she’s doing — there is no end to the pride I feel for her,” said her grandfather, Gene Schanbaum, a resident if Dallas. “She’s fought off this disease that attacked her body and she’s strong, she’s well, and she is focused on the mission in life, to have every student — everyone who might be in danger, to get this shot. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s easy to conquer this disease.
For more information or to support Jamie Schanbaum, as she shares her experiences and knowledge so that all can avoid this devastating but vaccine preventable disease, visit thejamiegroup.org.
On the road with Jamie Schanbaum
Jamie Schanbaum has put the pedal to the metal and is racing to make history on many tracks. The 22-year-old Meningitis survivor is making the campuses of Texas’ universities safer for their students and community members. As for herself, she’s speeding down the road of good health.
Having earned a gold medal, in the Augusta, Ga. — June 2011 USA Cycling National Championships, Schanbaum will likely qualify to participate in the 2012 Paralympic Games, in London.
Jamie is a formal casual cyclist who took her new wheels in October. Her brakes have been rearranged, allowing her to push to slow and stop, rather than pull the brakes in, as she lost her fingers to the disease that changed her life. While Jamie lost both legs to amputation, the rest of her bike, is similar to that of any other cyclist.
“My trainer suggested cycling would be good to help me strengthen my legs and my core,” said Jamie, who trains by three to five days a week, riding trails in Austin, where she is a student at the University of Texas, as well as at an indoor biking center. “What started out has therapy is something I now think of as awesome. I love being part of the picture, to feel the wind blowing past me, and the time I spend training is time is time I treasure. That it’s turned into an opportunity where I’m vying for a spot on the Olympic team, that’s just, wow!”
— Deb Silverthorn
Check with your physician to ensure vaccine coverage
By Dr. Susan Sugerman
The Center for Disease control recently issued new guidelines for the administration of the meningococcal vaccine.
Teenagers and young adults may have missed being immunized against meningococcal meningitis because of problems related to variable supply over the past five years. Therefore, while most should have received the vaccine at their 11-12 year-old check up, many need to “catch up.” Noting that that antibody levels may fall to non-protective levels after five years, the CDC advises a “booster” dose at age 16 (as long as the first dose was given at least 8 weeks prior), which sends the antibody titers to exponentially higher levels. This is recommended for anyone ages 16 through 18. It should be offered to 19-21 year-olds who enroll in college. It is not recommended for persons over age 21 (but may be given on request); it absolutely should be given to those in particular high-risk groups (e.g. military recruits, certain immune or spleen problems, etc., see link for details). The CDC does not distinguish between the effectiveness of the two meningococcal vaccine products presently on the market in the U.S. For a thorough explanation of the new guidelines, visit http://www.immunize.org/askexperts/experts_men.asp.
Susan Sugerman, M.D. is a board certified pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine. She practices at Girls to Women Health and Wellness in Dallas, www.gtw-health.com.