One Meningitis Survivor Hopes to Inspire a Generation
Aug 31, 2012

One of my fondest memories from this summer was the time our family spent watching the Olympics together.  My children are each committed athletes themselves, so regardless of the sport we were watching, we were always in awe of the skill and determination of the competitors.  No matter who ultimately won the gold, my heart always swelled when I saw those athletes proudly representing their country upon the podium.
Though the Summer Olympics have come and gone, London is currently hosting another major event that is sure to provide some good family inspiration.  The 2012 Paralympics began on Wednesday and this year’s slogan, “Inspire a Generation,” couldn’t be more appropriate for one of America’s own athletes.
As the leader of the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team, Nick Springer is competing for his ninth consecutive gold medal.  Although his name may not be as familiar as Michael Phelps, his story is even more compelling.  Nick was a young athlete prior to contracting the bacterial infection meningococcal meningitis as a 14-year-old at summer camp in 1999.  He woke from a medically induced coma to find that both his arms and legs had been amputated. He lost his legs from the knees, down, and his arms at mid-forearm.  In the video below, Nick explains the many challenges he had to overcome in his life, but he focuses on how determined he is to educate people about meningitis vaccination.
As described in a recent People magazine article,

“With determination, a sense of humor, and a loving family, he moved his life forward, becoming the top defender in his sport.”
“Today, Nick lives independently and drives his own car, dividing his time between New York and Phoenix, where he plays rugby for the Phoenix Fusion. Two years ago he graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., and he works as a spokesperson for the National Meningitis Association (of which his mother was a co-founder).”

Yesterday I spoke with another co-founder of the National Meningitis Association, Lynn Bozof, who lost her son to meningitis many years ago.  In her continuing effort to educate others regarding the importance of meningitis vaccination, Lynn has also launched the Parents Who Protect blog.  She talked fondly of Nick and his family, as she explained,

“Nick’s mom, along with me and three other parents, were the original founders of the National Meningitis Association.  I have seen Nick grow and mature into the fine young man he is today.  His mom, unfortunately passed away 4 years ago, but I know she is very proud of him.  Her message, Nick’s message, and all of us at NMA just hope people will vaccinate their children.”

Just prior to my conversation with Lynn, I had also participated in a special webinar entitled Teens, Tweens and Vaccines.  On the call, Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the CDC and Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, provided detailed information about the vaccination status of our nation’s teens and tweens and discussed upcoming campaigns to promote vaccination to this hard to reach population and their parents.
One of the things Dr. Schuchat emphasized was the meningitis vaccine and the need for two dosesIdeally, the first dose should be administered to 11-12 year olds, while a second booster dose should follow at age 16, before the child enters the peak time of increased risk.  It’s important to note, whether your child received the 11-12 year old dose or not, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) suggests that your child receive the vaccine within 5 years of starting college.  In fact, many colleges have begun to require the meningococcal vaccination prior to enrollment and not just for students who live on campus.  Regardless of whether the meningitis vaccine is required for school or not, organizations like the CDC and the NMA want parents to know that it is not only available, but highly recommended as a safe and effective way to protect our children from a devastating, debilitating and sometimes deadly disease.
Yesterday, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released the adolescent vaccination coverage rates from 2011 which showed that the rates for the meningitis vaccine (MCV4) have remained steady in the 70% range.  While one may be encouraging that they haven’t dropped, there is obviously still room for improvement.  The report also revealed that the Tdap vaccination among adolescents have improved to 78%, but HPV rates have remain consistent around 53% for the first dose.
In addition to the actual immunization rates of today’s teens, what’s important to note is that specific interventions can be effective at increasing adolescent vaccination coverage – interventions such as strong recommendations from health care providers, making the most of every health visit as an opportunity for vaccination, reducing out-of-pocket costs and using reminder/recall systems.   For more information on vaccines for teens and tweens, be sure to refer to the CDC’s adolescent specific pages.
Hopefully, spokespeople like Nick Springer will continue to bring these important immunization messages to an even greater audience.  He is certainly trying to “inspire a generation” by helping people realize the consequences of foregoing these important vaccines, and encouraging them to make the informed choice to vaccinate.

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