After losing limbs, Texas woman speaks in Waterloo urging students to get meningitis vaccines

Local News

WATERLOO, NY (WROC) — A woman visiting our area is living as an amputee because of a devastating disease — and it could’ve been prevented with a vaccination. That’s what happened to one Texas woman who contracted meningitis while attending college.

“I saw my limbs go from red rash, to purple to black to rotting, I felt like a statue in bed,” said Jamie Schanbaum.

Schanbaum contracted meningitis while attending college in Texas ten years ago. She lived off campus and didn’t know how she got it.

“Walked onto campus at a higher risk of catching it. I was not vaccinated and almost died from the disease,” said Schanbaum. 

Doctors say early symptoms of meningitis may appear similar to those of a cold or flu but can rapidly escalate and be fatal within 24 hours.

“To people having low blood pressure, collapsing, having seizures from meningitis or developing organ failure and shutdown. Their bodies are literally are being poisoned by the bacteria and the things the bacteria can produce,” said Dr. Len Friedland, a pediatrician and vaccine researcher at GSK. 

There are two different types of meningococcal vaccines – ACWY and B – and both are needed to help protect against the five vaccine-preventable groups of meningitis. Recent data from the CDC shows that only 14.5 percent of young adults have received the meningitis B vaccine. And about one in ten people infected with meningitis will die and one in five survivors will suffer long-term consequences. In Jamie’s case, her fingers and lower legs had to be amputated.

“I don’t want people to take this lightly, because what if it did happen to you and you said no to the opportunity to protect yourself,” said Schanbaum.

Amputation didn’t stop Jamie from living life to the fullest. After learning to walk in prosthetics, she became interested in cycling that led her to be part of the USA Paralympic Cycling Team in 2011.

“I never thought that would ever happen to me. Especially after getting sick with this terrible disease and to see myself accomplish so much, it was very surprising flattering and nice I think,” said Schanbaum

In 2003, the State of New York mandated that all college students with six semester hours must be vaccinated against meningitis ACWY. The shot for Meningitis B is currently not part of that requirement. Jamie is helping in those efforts to get it mandated.

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