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Abigail Wold - My Battle with Meningococcal Meningitis 


People are usually surprised when they find out that I have prosthetic legs. In fact, I have been confronted several times for parking in a handicapped space because I walk so well. People are really surprised, though, when I tell them why I have prosthetic legs. In 2003, when I was 22 years old, I contracted a deadly form of bacterial meningitis just two days before I was to leave for Army basic training. While I was out with my friends I began to feel sick shortly after midnight. I vomited at about 1:00 am and we decided to go back to a friend's house where we all stayed the night. When we got there, I went straight to bed. At 4:00 am, I woke up and began to vomit again. I thought I had the flu or a stomach virus. Despite my friends' pleas to call my mom who is a nurse practitioner, I convinced them to let me go back to sleep and promised to go home in the morning.


The next morning, I awoke to searing pain when a friend touched my arm to wake me up. I knew something was seriously wrong so I immediately got dressed to go to the Emergency Room. When my friends were helping me change, we noticed a rash on my stomach and that is what prompted me to get to the hospital as fast as possible. By the time I arrived at Brandon Regional Hospital, I could not walk on my own but I mustered up the energy to tell the triage nurse, "I think I have meningitis." The nurse immediately put me into isolation. The last thing I remember for two and a half weeks is telling a doctor, "I know I could die but can I please have some pain medicine?"


Soon after I got to the hospital, my friends called my parents because the doctors confirmed what I suspected. I had Meningococcal Meningitis and I was in septic shock. As the days passed, my condition deteriorated quickly. I was placed on a ventilator and diagnosed with multiple organ failure and several other severe complications. The doctors told my parents that I had a 20% chance to survive. When my family had to call our priest, to give me my last rites, they couldn’t even believe what they were telling him. Their previously healthy, lively, energetic daughter was in a hospital bed, comatose and on full life support. Many of my family members from across the country flew in to say goodbye to me.


I pulled through, to everyone’s amazement, but I did not come out unscathed. I had a hemorrhage from my adrenal glands, leaving me with Adrenal Insufficiency, and a daily dose of steroids indefinitely. As a complication of the septic shock, many parts of my body did not receive adequate circulation and most of the tissue at these sites died. My feet were the most damaged, and despite 9 surgical attempts to repair them, amputation was the best option. I adapted quickly to using my prosthetics thanks to Westcoast brace and limb and lots of physical therapy!


When I finally got out of the hospital (3 months later) I read as much as I could find about meningitis. I had heard of it before but I didn’t know it could do what it did to me. The one thing I did know was what saved my life. I recognized the rash on my stomach, as a petechial rash (looks like little hickeys) and knew it was characteristic of meningitis. Since Meningococcal meningitis affects everyone differently, some people do not get the rash until late in the course of illness, which makes it hard for doctors to differentiate meningitis from the flu or other viral illnesses. Many people have less than 24 hours between their first symptom and the development of a life threatening course of illness.


I soon learned that there is a vaccine that protects against 4 of the 5 most prevalent serotypes of Meningococcal meningitis. You can only imagine how horrified my mother, a nurse practitioner was, when she found out about the vaccine. I decided that I wanted to do something, anything, to help other people not have to go through what my family did. That’s when I met Frankie Milley. Frankie is the founder of Meningitis Angels, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization that promotes vaccine awareness for all age groups. Her only son, Ryan, would be the same age as me now but he died of Meningococcal meningitis in 1998, just a few weeks after his highschool graduation.


Frankie and my mom, like all of the other parents whose children have suffered from meningitis will never be able to repair the damage it has done to their hearts. They can; however, help prevent other families from experiencing their pain, by telling anyone and everyone about the CDC’s recommendations for the meningitis vaccine, called Menactra. The CDC currently recommends the vaccine for all 11-18 year olds. College freshmen have been found to be at an increased risk for contracting Meningococcal meningitis, so many colleges now require the vaccine for students who live on campus. It is important to note that young children are still in the highest risk group and that there are also vaccines available to protect them.


Hopefully, the vaccine will be mandated for 11-18 year olds within the next few years but cost effectiveness has come into question. My initial medical bills exceeded a million dollars and will continue to grow for the rest of my life. The vaccine costs approximately $100. My legs, well... they were priceless. 

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