I was seven years old when, one Saturday morning in 2004, I woke up feeling weak and nauseous. What first seemed a mere case of the flu quickly revealed itself as something far more serious. My symptoms worsened and little red spots appeared on my arms, causing my parents to rush me to urgent care. The staff there sent me immediately to the ER at Sacred Heart in Spokane, where a spinal tap confirmed their worst fears: it wasn’t the flu. It was meningitis B – and it was killing me.
In addition to the B strain that I contracted, meningitis presents as multiple strains that can be lethal – killing 10 percent of people who contract it. Here in Washington state, Meningitis is the most distinctive cause of death, and its college students who are most at risk.
Thankfully, the Washington state legislature has taken steps to curb these rates by requiring colleges and universities to provide information on the disease to incoming students. Thanks to the Washington Department of Health, administrators can access a webpage full of valuable resources to aid their efforts. As a student at Seattle University, I’m proud that administrators have created resources like the Student Health Center’s meningitis page to educate students and parents. I encourage them, and other colleges and universities, to continue their efforts.
There wasn’t a vaccination for meningitis B when I contracted it, but thankfully there were drugs and remarkable medical providers that prevented the disease from taking my life. The disease, however, irreparably affected my body – resulting in below-the-knee amputations of both of my legs and kidney failure. Today, prosthetics and a wheelchair enable my mobility. In addition, I received kidney transplants in 2006 and 2016 that have sustained my health.
Fortunately, there are two widely-available vaccines that can protect against every strain of meningitis today. Here on campus however, I see firsthand that not everyone is even aware of the threat of men B nor the vaccine that can prevent it. For a disease that spreads so easily through coughs, sneezes and saliva – especially within the dorms – it’s imperative that students educate themselves and understand the options available to keep them safe.
Today I’m majoring in biology and am on the path to become a physician assistant. My dream is to someday work in a transplant clinic so I can serve people going through what I’ve gone through. In addition, my experiences as a disabled woman have inspired me to advocate for people within the disabled community: this year, I will serve as the vice president of the Seattle U Students for Disability Justice organization.
I wait desperately for the day that no one dies from this preventable disease. Until then, I plan to raise awareness about meningitis and encourage everyone to consider vaccinating against this deadly threat.
– Kaley Dugger
Vice President, SU Students for Disability Justice