Meningitis survivor urges others to get vaccinated

A local meningitis survivor hopes by speaking on a South by Southwest panel she will encourage others to get vaccinated for the disease.

Thanks to new developments in healthcare, there is a new meningitis vaccine that covers strains never covered before.

In 2008, Jamie Schanbaum was a college student at the University of Texas at Austin when she contracted meningitis. She was rushed to Seton hospital and diagnosed with the rare and deadly bacterial infection.

“When you find out you have meningitis, you're in a hospital wondering if you're going to survive,” Schanbaum said.

During her time in the hospital, Jamie’s fingers and legs were amputated.

“I would wake up from time to time and literally watch my limbs turn from red rash, to purple, to black, to literally rotting,” said Schanbaum. 

She never let that hold her back.

“In 2008 is when I got sick. 2009 I learned how to walk and then in 2010 I got on my bike for the first time. And then in 2011 I became an international cyclist,” said Schanbaum.

Jamie worked with lawmakers in 2009 to pass "The Jamie Schanbaum Act," requiring meningitis vaccinations of college students. The State Health Department says one in ten people are a carrier for the type of meningitis Jamie had. Most people are not affected by it, but a cold or stomach virus can cause the bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which in Jamie’s case almost had fatal consequences.

“I would say the most important message is that meningitis, while it can be rare, it's even rarer to survive it,” Schanbaum said. 

Jamie hopes her story serves as a warning to other young adults that the meningitis vaccine can be life-saving.

“If you want to enjoy your prime time in college, please get vaccinated. No one needs to go through what I did. I kind of took one for the team,” said Schanbaum. 

Jamie went on to graduate from UT in 2014. Now she drives for Uber and advocates for vaccine legislation.

"I don't want anyone else to go through what I did," Schanbaum said.

The routinely recommended vaccine, which many college students are required to receive, covers only four serogroups of meningitis. To be fully protected, a person needs two different vaccines. 99 percent of young people have not received the vaccine to prevent meningitis B, which causes more than 30 percent of U.S. cases.

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