My older brother, Evan, and I were 12 1/2 months apart. We were the “twins” who weren’t really twins, but who shared a bond so close, that I still can’t believe he is gone.
I never needed to worry about having friends around, because I always had Evan. We both loved sports, and I have the greatest memories of growing up playing baseball, soccer, and basketball together. It was a great family time, and one I hope to impart to my children.
Evan wanted to be a pitcher on a college baseball team, and my dad took him around to different colleges in Georgia. After tryouts at Georgia Southwestern University, Evan was asked to join the team as a walk-on player.
He was at a small university, but he loved it and loved his team. I was attending the University of Georgia, and I was so proud of my brother for following his dream. Both of us had plans to become orthopedic sports physicians and practice medicine together. We would get married, our children would not only be cousins but best friends—everything was planned out, everything was in motion.
Then, Evan came down with a violent migraine, so we thought.
The ER physicians diagnosed him as having a “little virus,” but it wasn’t a “little virus.” It was bacterial meningitis, or more specifically, “meningococcal disease.” My parents were told he had a 5% chance of survival.
I can only imagine, now that I am a parent myself, what horror they must have felt hearing that their son might die. I was on spring break with some friends in Florida, and my parents couldn’t reach me until much later that night. I immediately left to drive to the hospital where Evan was being treated.
In a spirit of youthful optimism, I felt that if Evan knew I was by his bedside, he would rally, just as each of us could always get the other one to rally.
But this horrible disease was stronger than all of the prayers and love being sent to Evan. My parents and I watched the disease ravage Evan’s body, as gangrene set in on his arms and legs. We watched the machines monitoring Evan, willing the numbers to be stable, for some sign of improvement.
As Evan was transferred to a third hospital, a burn unit, we were told that Evan had a 1% chance of survival. I remember asking my mom about life after death. I didn’t understand how my brother could be so sick. Evan went in for surgery to try to save his life, and both arms and legs were amputated.
That still wasn’t enough.
I watched my brother, in a medically induced coma, lie in bed with stumps, his face and body bloated from kidney failure. I cried, I prayed, I begged. I would go listen to music in my car, to try to escape from the reality of what was happening.
Then, Evan suffered 10 hours of grand mal seizures, and that caused irreversible brain swelling, and a herniated brain stem.
My brother, who I loved so much, was brain dead.
We all watched as Evan was disconnected from life support, flat-lined, and carried away in a body bag. Those are my last images of my brother.
I missed that quarter of school, because Evan had been in the hospital almost a month. When I went back, it was with a renewed determination to be a doctor. I did get admitted to medical school, and when I graduated, I fist-pumped my arm, and said to myself, “Evan, I did this for both of us.”
I still talk to Evan, I still miss him so much, and I carry his memory with me everywhere. My daughter’s middle name is Evan. When I got married, I did not have a best man, because that spot was reserved for Evan.
When my parents and I found out that Evan’s death could have been prevented with a vaccine, that was being routinely used in the military, it just made no sense. Why hadn’t any of us been told about the vaccine?
Needless to say, I am a staunch vaccine advocate, and as a primary care physician, I make sure that all of my patients are up-to-date on all CDC-recommended vaccinations.
It really is your choice, and your life. Take control and protect yourself against infections by getting immunized.
by Ryan Bozof