Protecting kids from a vaccine-preventable disease
The McKenzie Meningitis Foundation
by Dawn Ballou
February 22, 2006
(Pinedale) On Wednesday, February 22, Sublette County Public Health Nurse Annie Sondgeroth administered meningitis vaccines to 35 Pinedale High School seniors. The vaccine protects against four of the five strains of meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, which can be deadly.
The vaccines were given for free due to the help of the McKenzie Meningitis Foundation. Another 100 freshmen, sophomore and junior students will receive the vaccine in the next two months.
The McKenzie Meningitis Foundation is a nonprofit corporation based out of Pinedale. The foundation was created after Pinedale High School graduate McKenzie Hartwig, fell victim to meningitis in 2001.
McKenzie attended high school in Pinedale, Wyoming and graduated in 2001. Just 18-years old, she was named Wyoming All State in Volleyball, Basketball and Track in 2001. She played the flute and piccolo; could speak two languages, loved to travel and was an honor student. She was extremely popular and well-liked. After graduating from Pinedale High, she became a freshman at the University of South Dakota on a volleyball scholarship with business and foreign language classes.
In August, 2001, while attending a volleyball tournament in North Dakota with her college teammates, she suddenly became ill and died that same evening. The cause was determined to be meningitis. Her death stunned the Pinedale community, as well as student acquaintances around the state of Wyoming.
McKenzie’s death was even more heart-breaking when it was learned that there was a vaccine available that could have protected her from the infection, but that vaccine is not commonly known or routinely given to students.
Meningococcal meningitis strikes nearly 3,000 Americans each year. Recent data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that military personnel and college freshmen are at a six-fold increased risk of contracting the disease. This is due to crowded, communal living quarters, lifestyle and irregular sleep patterns.
"That day, when we hugged and kissed her good-bye, I never, ever thought it would be the last time we would see her alive," said McKenzie's Mom, Laurie Hartwig. "There are always those nagging little thoughts in the back of every parent's mind: 'Wear your seatbelt, don't drink and drive, be careful of drugs.' We had always talked about those kinds of dangers to both of our kids."
But the one danger the Hartwigs never even considered was meningococcal meningitis. The disease is a bacterial infection that causes severe swelling of the brain and spinal cord coverings and can result in death or long-term disabilities such as brain damage, sight and hearing loss and limb amputations.
Ken and Laurie Hartwig started the McKenzie Meningitis Foundation in her name to promote education and awareness of the disease and make the vaccine available to all graduating seniors in Pinedale and Big Piney High School. Shots normally cost $85, plus an office visit charge.
It is the goal of the McKenzie Foundation to raise enough funds to give the meningitis vaccination to every graduating, college-bound high school senior in Wyoming, optional and free of charge. The foundation is working to build an endowment with enough money so the interest will pay the $85 vaccination and education for 6,050 Wyoming seniors, every year.
A film crew associated with Good Morning America, based out of Jackson Hole, was on hand to film the vaccinations at the Pinedale High School and will be back for a week in May to continue work on a 20-minute meningitis documentary scheduled to be released later this fall.
Related Links: www.themckenziefoundation.org