On Friday, September 16, Brigham Young University will host the Meningitis Angels, a nonprofit meningitis awareness group.
Several reasons to visit campus are to educate students that this disease is deadly and debilitating and that there are vaccines to prevent it, and that there are two separate vaccines they need to prevent it.
“The thing that people need to understand is that meningitis is not something where you’re going to go to the hospital, come home and be over it. It’s a lifelong disease,” says Frankie Milley, founder and national executive director of Meningitis Angels.
As a mother who lost her college-age son to the illness, she has firsthand experience with how devastating it can be. Ryan, a healthy 18-year-old athlete, contracted it and was dead in less than a day.
After his passing, Milley formed the Meningitis Angels organization to help other families who had faced the disease and also to educate the public and policymakers on its effects. One of their main purposes has been to increase the amount of information available to families.
Meningitis, defined by the Mayo Clinic as an “inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord” comes in several forms, one of the most dangerous being bacterial meningitis, which claimed Ryan. The consequences can be devastating, with some dying in less than 24-hours.
Despite not being as prevalent as other diseases, the fact that some forms of meningitis spread rapidly in close quarters means that schools can be hubs for the disease, especially when there are students who are not immunized. The last few years have seen several types of meningitis outbreaks in Colorado, California, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Oregon, and other locations; some of these have been on college campuses.
This week, the Angels are working at Utah colleges to help students know the facts, especially with the need to obtain two different vaccinations to be fully protected—Meningococcal C4 and Meningococcal B.
“One child is too many, especially if it’s your child,” Milley says. “Ryan did not have to die. He could have been vaccinated and I would have my precious son with me today.”
Accompanying her are Leslie Meigs, 26, and Johnny Dantona, 21. Both contracted meningitis at a young age and survived, but not without significant health impacts. Meigs has extensive internal scarring and organ damage and had to receive a kidney transplant several years after the infection. Dantona lost both legs and sustained brain damage. Both are now members of the Angels organization and work to help fellow students get vaccinated.
“You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to where you have to understand the value of life and the value of living a healthy life,” Meigs says. She stressed that each person can protect not only themselves but others in their community by getting immunized.
Assistant teaching professor Lacey Eden and associate professor Beth Luthy have been instrumental in helping the Angels in their recent campaign. They hope that this week’s event will have a good outcome.
“There’s not many people that know a lot about Meningitis B,” Eden says. “Even if we can educate a very small percentage of those people, hopefully those people will then educate their friends, and then their friends will educate their friends, leading to increased awareness across campus.”
The Meningitis Angels will be in the Wilkinson Student Center on Friday from 10 am to 12 pm presenting information and answering questions.