For many Ohioans, March 9 is just another day on the calendar. I’m hopeful that you will spend a moment here to learn something new about a day that is so important to me.
This March 9 – today – is our state’s first Meningitis Awareness Day. With the help of my fellow lawmakers in the General Assembly, we established this day in honor of my niece Tess, who died of meningitis at age 5. We also designated this day to benefit all Ohioans so you can learn how to prevent a similar tragedy in your own family.
When Gov. John Kasich signed the bill for Meningitis Awareness Day, he said, “We can do more, can’t we?” I am on a mission to do just that. For me, and many health advocates throughout the state, today launches a serious effort to make sure more Ohioans are protected against the deadly, but preventable, bacterial meningitis disease.
Other Ohioans have experienced the tragedy of bacterial meningitis.
My brother-in-law, Paul Whitson, from Findlay, was Tess’s dad and now speaks out about this preventable disease, urging people to get the vaccine. His courage helps inspire my passion for this issue.
Cindy Krejny of Cleveland lost her college-age daughter to meningitis in 1997. Erin was buried on what would have been her 19th birthday, and her mother laments the lack of information that might have saved her. She said her family didn’t learn about the vaccination until it was too late. She says no parent should have to lose to child to a disease that can potentially be prevented through vaccination.
Dave Emsweller is vice president for student affairs at the University of Findlay. He vividly remembers being a dorm director at Michigan State University when two students died of meningitis. He helped MSU vaccinate 19,000 students that year. The Hancock County Department of Health is doing the same now for students at the University of Findlay.
Meningitis survivor Jamie Schanbaum urges everyone to know meningitis symptoms and act fast. When she contracted the disease, she said she didn’t know that when she walked from her apartment to the car to go to the hospital, it was the last time she would use her legs. She lost both her legs and fingers to the disease. Roughly 15 percent of meningitis cases are fatal, and 20 percent of survivors have lasting effects, including the loss of limbs.
Because I, and so many other Ohioans, have seen the terrible effects of bacterial meningitis, I plan to follow the governor’s advice. We are going to do more. I have been in conversation with medical professionals, local health officials and vaccination specialists to find the best way to proceed.
The result of those conversations is a bill that will add bacterial meningitis to the existing list of vaccinations that the Ohio Department of Health regulates for our schools. While we already regulate vaccination for diseases like polio, measles, and mumps, we do not have any regulation regarding the meningitis vaccine.
Because meningitis strikes so quickly, the best way to save lives is better prevention.Recent advances have made the meningitis vaccine even more effective, and I plan to urge my colleagues to support language that would bring Ohio into line with the 25 other states that have meningitis on the list of school vaccinations.
Moving forward, I will continue to interact with as many experts as possible to be sure that any legislation we pass on this issue follows best practices and protects as many children as possible.