My daughter MaryJo was a beautiful, multitalented, vibrant and well-travelled young woman when she contracted meningococcemia just 8 days before her 16th birthday in July 2000.
Early Saturday morning, MaryJo felt sick – she was weak and had a sore throat. I’m a registered nurse, so I examined her throat and didn’t see anything unusual – no redness, no swelling, no blotches – but she did feel warm.
I left for work and told MaryJo I would check up on her throughout the day. That afternoon, MaryJo called to tell me she had brown spots on her face. I immediately left work and, thinking about her symptoms on my way home, I knew then that she had meningitis. I found MaryJo sitting on the couch, still awake, alert and talking. But the brown spots had turned into a blotchy purplish rash. I immediately called for an ambulance and she was rushed to the hospital.
Despite emergency room’s best efforts to save her, MaryJo died 13 hours after her first symptoms. Meningitis can strike quickly and take the life of a seemingly healthy child in just hours. The disease is so scary because early symptoms are similar to those of common viral illnesses. I’m a nurse and I still failed to see that something was terribly wrong with my daughter until it was too late.
I believe MaryJo would still be here if she had been vaccinated. MaryJo died from a vaccine-preventable strain of meningitis – meningococcal meningitis type C.
A few months after MaryJo’s death, I started making meningitis awareness presentations to schools, community groups and to organisations who wanted to hear about meningococcal meningitis – its transmission, symptoms, debilitating effects, available vaccines and other prevention measures. Meningitis Awareness Key to prevention (MAK) was formed and continues its life-saving educational mission and message to the community.