As a new mom, many years ago, I was in awe of this little baby boy I took home from the hospital. As with all infants, he depended on his parents for everything, and everything is what we wanted to give him.
Time seems to spin faster and faster once you have children. I was so enthralled with each new development—the first smile, the first time he rolled over, and then couldn’t roll back. The first sounds, crawling, trying to stand on those sturdy little legs. I was so busy watching him, but also worrying.
As a parent, you hope and pray that nothing catastrophic will happen to your child. Minor things like tubes in the ear—those you get through. But being nervous by nature, I would worry about childhood cancers, accidents, or other tragedies. I was so lucky to have wonderful kids—two great boys, who were good students, kind and funny, and just the loves of our lives.
Our best memories were of the years spent watching them play soccer, baseball, and basketball—sometimes all three at the same time. I wouldn’t change those years for anything.
Of course, my sons had their yearly physicals, and all of the vaccines that were recommended. From the day he was born, until the day he graduated from high school, I feel like all I did was turn around. How did 17 years go by so fast?
Time was speeding up, faster than I wanted. It was part of the natural cycle for my sons to go off to college, and I was happy for them. However, not happy for me. I definitely suffered from empty nest syndrome.
And then my son was a college junior—honor student, pre-med, and a pitcher on his college baseball team, and with a phone call, our world fell apart.
My son called me at work, complaining of a horribly intense migraine, nausea, and sensitivity to light. Several hours later, when he wasn’t feeling better, I asked him to have his roommate take him to the hospital. We were told by the ER physicians that Evan had a little virus, and they didn’t want to send him back to his dorm, so they would keep him overnight. We asked the doctors if we needed to drive down, and they said no. I was uneasy, but said okay.
The next morning, we received a phone call that Evan had bacterial meningitis and had a 5 percent chance of survival. Evan fought for 26 days before he passed away.
After he died, we found out that a vaccine, used by the military for years, could have saved his life. I was even more devastated, if that is possible, because I was overcome by tremendous guilt. Evan had every vaccine that was recommended before he went to college, but no one told us about meningitis.
Shortly after we had moved from California to Georgia, there was an outbreak of meningitis in the Atlanta metro area. My husband and I remember Evan coming in to our den and asking, “Mom, how do I know if I’ve got meningitis?”
I told him, “Oh, Evan, you don’t need to worry about that.” I can’t tell you how those words haunt me and always will. I should have looked into it more, instead of dismissing the idea. Maybe if I had investigated, I would have found out that the military routinely vaccinated recruits.
Would I have found a doctor to give him the vaccine, since it wasn’t recommended by the CDC at that time? I don’t know, and I’ll never know. But back to the racing of time that I mentioned earlier. Part of me will always be in 1998, with the vision of my son at 20 years old, when he passed away. He will always be 20. I don’t comprehend how 13 years have gone by. Again, I turned around, and this huge chunk of time has passed.
My message—make sure your children are vaccinated against all diseases for which there are vaccines. Be proactive and do your research. If the doctors don’t mention vaccinations to you, then speak up. It just takes a second for your life to change forever.
By Lynn Bozof, President of the National Meningitis Association
Images courtesy of the Bozof family