How My Vaccinated Daughter Died From Meningitis and What I’m Doing About It
Feb 02, 2016

This is a guest post, written by Alicia Stillman, Director of the Emily Stillman Foundation.  One of the missions of the Foundation is to raise awareness of meningococcal disease and the various vaccines that are now available to prevent it.    

February 2, 2013 my life changed forever.  I was told my beautiful and healthy nineteen year old daughter no longer had any brain activity, and that she would die.  Those words will forever haunt me.  There is no preparation, no training, and no practice for what was to come.  The loss of a child is like none other.  It is the wrong order. When you lose a child, a piece of you dies as well.


Emily was a sophomore at Kalamazoo College when she tragically contracted bacterial meningitis.  On February 2nd, 2013, Emily passed away with her family by her side.  Emily was able to donate 6 of her organs to 5 recipients, along with tissue and bones to countless others.

On January 31, 2013 my middle daughter Emily called home from college, and mentioned she had a headache.  I thought she was possibly coming down with the flu.  She thought it may be from lack of sleep.  We decided she would take Motrin and go to bed.  Several hours later she woke up to increased pain and was taken to the hospital where she was treated for a migraine.  It was not until hours later that the medical professionals realized they may be looking at meningococcal disease, and performed a lumbar puncture to confirm.

The entire two hour drive to the hospital I begged the medical professionals to double check the results.  Since I knew my daughter had been vaccinated against meningitis, I did not believe it was possible for her to have that disease.  I feared that something else would go untreated, and I wanted them to heal her.

When I arrived at the hospital, Emily was already unconscious as they prepared her for a craniotomy to relieve the swelling in her brain.  When the nurse took me to see her, she asked if I wanted them to call clergy.  That was the first time I actually realized the seriousness of this disease.  I did not understand how this could be happening.  My daughter only had a headache.  She was vaccinated.

Within 30 hours from the onset of her headache, my daughter was brain dead.  Her life was over.  We decided Emily would want to be an organ donor.  She was able to save five lives with six organs, and countless others with her bones and tissue.  She was a hero.

StillmanFamily2As I said goodbye to my sweet daughter in that hospital bed, I made her a promise.  As I kissed and hugged my little girl for the last time, tangled amongst the tubes and the wires that were coming out of every part of her, I told her to go and be at peace.  I said I would be ok, and that I would be her voice.  I promised her that I would figure out how this could happen.  How could she get this disease when I thought I had protected her?  I told her I would make sure this could not happen to other people.

For the first few months after Emily died, I walked around in a fog.  I continued to ask, “Why me?”  Finally one day instead of asking “Why me?”, I said “Because it’s me”, and it was time to fulfill the promises I had made my precious daughter on that cold February morning.  That was the day The Emily Stillman Foundation was born.

I learned that I had, in fact, protected my daughter with the only meningococcal vaccine that was available at that time.  She had received two doses of the quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) as recommended, (with the first dose at age 11, and a booster dose at age 16).  However, that vaccine only offered protection against serogroups A, C, W and Y – NOT B.  At the time of Emily’s death, there was no vaccine available in the United States to offer protection against Serogroup B.  This was right around the time of the Princeton and the UCSB outbreaks, which drew national attention to this particular serogroup, and encouraged the FDA to allow the use of a MenB vaccine that was in the process of undergoing approval as part of an emergency accelerated release status.   I learned that serogroup B meningococcal disease was not as rare as some people think,  and most people only hear about the outbreaks and not the many single cases that occur all over the world.  I learned that my daughter had died of a vaccine preventable disease because the vaccine was not yet licensed or approved at the time of her death, and therefore not available to protect my daughter.

Now that I am more active in the vaccine advocacy arena, it concerns me that many healthcare providers are still unfamiliar with the availability of the MenB vaccine.  Since my daughter died, two MenB vaccines have been licensed and approved by the FDA in late 2014 and early 2015.  At the June 2015 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the following vaccine recommendation was made

A serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine series may be administered to adolescents and young adults 16 through 23 years of age to provide short term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease. The preferred age for MenB vaccination is 16 through 18 years of age.

With the way this recommendation is worded, as more of a permissive recommendation, many providers may not be routinely offering MenB vaccines to their patients.  This means that it is up to The Emily Stillman Foundation, along with other immunization awareness initiatives like The Vaccinate Your Family campaign, to educate parents about MenB vaccines.  Otherwise, parents may remain unaware of the availability of these vaccines.  They may believe, like I did, that in getting their child the quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) that is often required for schools and colleges, that they’re doing their part to protect their children from all the various serogroups of this dangerous and often deadly disease.  But unless parents are also requesting the MenB vaccine, that is not the case.

The release of our MenB ForeverEmily Public Service Announcement is my emotional attempt to educate the public about the importance of “complete and total” protection against all serogroups of meningococcal disease.  Complete and total protection means both recommended doses of the conjugate vaccine MCV4 (with the first dose at age 11-12 years of age and a booster dose at 16), as well as a complete series of either of the two available MenB vaccines which are recommended between 16-23 years of age, but preferred between ages 16-18.

I know this video is very hard to watch.  Trust me when I say it was even harder to film, and hardest yet to live through.  But it is an important message, with a strong call to action.  As we say at The Emily Stillman Foundation, “Get Committed, Get Educated, Get Protected, and Get Vaccinated”.


Related Posts

This guest post was written by Alethea Mshar out of concern for her son Ben.  A version of this post originally appeared on her blog Ben’s Writing, Running Mom. Like all parents, my child’s health...

I could hear it clearly from across the auditorium.  A distinctive cough in a very small child.  It was painful to my ears and I brought a sinking feeling to my heart.  My daughter glanced over...

8 responses to “How My Vaccinated Daughter Died From Meningitis and What I’m Doing About It”

  1. sari Cicurel says:

    Thank you for helping to spread your important words everyday and sharing this platform today on the third anniversary of Emily’s passing. I know your efforts will help make a difference.

  2. Leslie Fuchs says:

    So terribly sorry for your loss. My 3 boys ( 2 in high school and 1 in college ) have all been vaccinated with MenB ( Pfizer’sTrumenba ) as well as MCV4. Parents should remember to ask their physicians for the “B” specifically in addition to the other ( Menactra ).

  3. reissd says:

    My condolences. This is so, so sad. Thank you for speaking up for protecting others!

  4. Brianna says:

    wow I am 54 and I just realized that I personally only had a few vaccines when I was a child. I am going to see what I can do to remedy that. You may have just saved MY life too. I am so glad too that you donated parts to help others to live. I was never able to have living children myself and I hope to be able to bring life that same way one day when I am gone.

  5. M says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and raising awareness about this!

  6. Vivian says:

    I am sharing this with my daughter right now… she has 2 girls, 12 and 14 and 2 boys 7 and 9… I dont know how we could go on if we lost any of them…. Thank you soooo very much for sharing a painful time in your world.. You have probably just saved countless lives!!!

  7. Lauren says:

    My 16 year old daughter had a physical today where they offered a vaccine to protect against Meningitis B. The nirse who was taking her stats asked if we were interested in the Trumemba vaccine. I asked what’s it for? What does it protect against? She said ” honestly… I don’t know” WHAT?!? And you expect me to put it in my daughter. Don’t think so. So we left without it and not a second thought.
    Now I turn on FB and here’s your article. Like someone is trying to tell me something by putting this in my path tonight. That being said, your heartbreaking story has changed my opinion and my daughter will be returning adapt to receive the vaccine. So I say thank you for bringing this to the forefront and I am so very sorry for your loss but obviously my gain.

  8. kato says:

    I myself am a college student and am taking a course on vaccine-preventable diseases. Meningitis in particular is one of the most relatable things we discuss and I hope to spread the word across my campus to educate other students. I think everyone should get vaccinated but I would love to hear other people’s opinions. Please take this short survey and pass it along!!
    Thank you!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.