By Greg Williams | Op-Ed
As summer of 2016 draws to a close, backyard bar-b-qs with friends, and cherished family vacations become forever anchored in our memories. Those care-free summer days are replaced by early nights, even earlier mornings, and making sure mom, dad, and your best buddy are scheduled for move-in day. For some, the beginning of the school year can be an exciting build-up, for others, an overwhelming hodgepodge of attempting to get responsibilities taken care of. In either case, a list can help to ensure nothing is missed.
Clothes? Check. School supplies? Check. FAFSA completed? Check. Care package? Check. A little extra cash? Check. Vaccinations? Why in the world would vaccinations cross your mind when making sure your child is ready for classes to begin? The health and safety of our children is every parent’s top priority, yet many of us fail our responsibilities by taking for granted our children’s vaccinations are current, and in my case, totally oblivious of the necessity. I did not know, and as a result of my passiveness, my son died from bacterial meningitis, a vaccine preventable disease.
Meningococcal disease, or meningitis, is a potentially dangerous bacterial illness that can cause loss of limbs, deafness and even death. The disease is alarming because patients can often go from having flu-like symptoms to the worse effects in a few short hours. Meningitis can kill within 24 hours, or it can slowly progress over a month. Anyone can get meningitis, but it is most common in infants and people 16-21 years old.
My son is the partial namesake of the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act, a law that requires all first-time college students to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. I’m honored and highly appreciative of everyone associated with passing this law, but I miss him every day, and the guilt from my ignorance will haunt me until my dying day.
After returning to his beloved Texas A&M from the 2011 winter break, my son was suddenly stricken ill with flu-like symptoms. After admittance to the local hospital, he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and immediately placed on life support. Within just a matter of hours, my son went from very healthy and vibrant, to having no brain activity at all. For 3 agonizing days, we tried every possible treatment, but none were successful. We had no choice, and reluctantly discontinued life support efforts; he died soon afterwards. It is believed Nicolis contracted stain B which represents approximately 50% of all meningitis cases in persons 17 to 22 years of age in the US.
As college students, you find yourselves in a unique place in life. You are no longer children, and it is in these days you will begin to take claim of who you are, and who you want to be. We as parents have attempted our best efforts in directing our children in a safe, meaningful way, and you are finally at an age where you can use all of the advice, that for so long seemingly went in one ear, and out the other. You heard us all along. You would not have made it this far if you hadn’t. You live in an age where you can access more knowledge and information about your world than we could have ever imagined a generation ago. You are young adults, and as much as we want to, we cannot protect our children from every conceivable danger in this world. Sadly, losing Nicolis was a reminder of this. I am heartbroken to have had my son taken from me. So, I write to you today to emphasize you can protect yourselves. Vaccinations offer the best protection of preventing many infectious diseases and perhaps even death.
The worst of all human experiences is the death of a child. The relentless and unbearable pain is compounded when discovering the death could have been prevented by an available and preventative measure. I ask, please remember Nicolis when you are at the medical center, or your doctor’s office. Ask questions, take responsibility in your health, and prevent what is preventable. Please Get Vaccinated.
Greg Williams is a devoted parent who lost his son to bacterial meningitis in 2011. After his loss, he worked tirelessly with the 82nd Texas Legislature in modifying the meningitis law to include all students and not just the dorm residents. His sole purpose in life is to educate parents and college students of the meningitis threat.