The University of Oregon campus has had an outbreak of four cases of meningococcemia, with the first case occurring in January at the start of a new term. Meningococcemia is a potentially life threatening disease that occurs when there is inflammation of the membrane protecting the brain and spinal cord. After surviving and recovering, the student who was the first confirmed case of meningococcemia on campus has agreed to answer questions based on her experience and to protect her identity will remain anonymous.
HCO: Can you give a timeline of how the events of being affected by meningitis unfolded?
The night before I got sick I had a headache. During the night I couldn’t sleep well and my body started to ache. The next morning I started to vomit anything I would drink or eat. My body was still aching and I began to get the chills. My mom came down to my apartment and we went to urgent care in Eugene around 1pm. She requested they check for meningitis but they only took a flu swab that ended up being negative. At around 4pm she took me back to my apartment and headed back home. When I tried to nap I could still not sleep well and was still vomiting. I asked her to come back and take me back home around 7pm. After I took a bath at home my headache returned. Over the next couple hours I tried to nap but was waking up every hour and started to become more disoriented. Around 10pm my mom urged me to use the bathroom before going to bed. She followed me into the bathroom and that’s when we noticed 3 spots on my leg that looked like moles (it was the blood vessels hemorrhaging under my skin). After seeing them, we drove to the emergency room and about an hour later blood began to exit out of my nose and mouth.
HCO: What were your first symptoms?
My first symptoms were common to flu symptoms such as vomiting, aches, a slight fever, headaches, and chills. The main reason why people die from this disease is because they think it’s something as simple as the flu and don’t treat it soon enough.
HCO: What do you remember feeling like?
I don’t remember much from that day since the disease made me become very disoriented but I remember feeling very weak and tired. I felt like I had the normal flu.
The last memory I have was checking into the ER but as soon as the doctor rushed in and told my mom and I that I had a “massive infection,” they started antibiotics and did everything they could before sending me in the ambulance to OHSU. I don’t think many people (except my mom) imagined a good outcome because of how severe my disease was. Even if they thought I would survive, they expected me to lose some extremities.
HCO: How was your family feeling through out this experience?
My family was very supportive during everything. It couldn’t have been easy watching me go through it but they did it with the best composure and stayed with me through all of it. My brother, who lives in Hawaii, took the next flight that day to be by my side. I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family. Everyone who saw my mom go though it says she’s the strongest mom they know. She always had faith that I was going to make it. I wasn’t awake to witness the scariness of it but she said, “It was like a horror movie, it’s not something you ever your child to go through.”
HCO: What was your first memory when you woke up?
I was sedated for 7 days while the doctors treated the infection and the other issues the infection caused. As I was coming out of sedation I remember waking up a couple times in the middle of the night and seeing either my step dad or my brother in the room. The next day I don’t remember waking up but the first vivid memory I have is my mom sitting by my bed talking to me (I had a ventilator tube in so I couldn’t talk).
HCO: How has your recovery process been?
I didn’t know what to expect about the recovery process. I thought I would be walking and driving a week after leaving the hospital. It’s been about five weeks since I’ve been home and I drove for the first time just a couple days ago. It definitely hasn’t been easy. It’s probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever gone through because my body just isn’t able to do what I want it to. I have learned a lot about patience from it.
HCO: How has this experience affected your body and you personally?
I’m very lucky that I’m not left with any long-term complications. The doctors treated all the damage the infection did to my organs. The only things still recovering are my lungs and my stamina/strength. My lungs were filled with a lot of fluid so it will take around 6 months to get my lung function back to normal with some scarring. My strength improves everyday but I’m still unable to do a lot of things I could before I got sick. I lost about 25% of my muscle mass just after ten days in the hospital.
HCO: How has this affected you academically?
I had to withdraw from the term but I plan to return to campus for spring term. Luckily I have enough credits from high school that will keep me on track credit-wise.
HCO: You could have potentially passed away after being infected; how does this make you feel?
It’s a scary thought when I think about it, but it makes me feel strong. There’s so much more I want to do with my life now that I got a second chance. I’m also very thankful that I survived, and for all the doctors that saved my life.
HCO: How would you recommend staying healthy?
Wash your hands often, cover your cough or sneeze, and don’t share drinks. Pretty much everything your mom has been telling you since you were a kid. Washing your hands is something that is really important, especially being on campus and around all the germs from the thousands of college students.
HCO: What would you like to say to other students?
You may think to yourself, “This would never happen to me,” or “It’s too rare for me to ever get it.” I didn’t think I would ever get this disease either and unfortunately the vaccine for it was not available when I got sick. Take the easier route and get vaccinated. I know a few shots doesn’t sound fun but it’s a lot better than having to have multiple IVs and blood draws. Even if you think it’s just the flu, ask the doctor to test for meningitis just to make sure. Its a very fast disease and doesn’t give you very much time before it becomes deadly.
This is not something to be taken lightly. Educate yourself and take the appropriate precautions to take care and protect yourself.