Mother asks for more meningitis prevention at UW
University Health Services says disease is rare, poses no community threat
A mother who lost her son to bacterial meningitis wants more proactive measures at University of Wisconsin campuses, after the sudden death of another student.
Henry Mackaman died earlier this week. Mackaman's family has planned a memorial in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. The young musician's relatives are holding a visitation and wake on April 19, and a celebration is set for April 20. There is no word yet on a Madison memorial.
It was an obituary all too familiar to Gail Bailey. Her son, Eddie, suffered a similarly quick and unexpected death in 2002.
"So that quickly he went from a living, breathing individual to we were planning his funeral," Bailey said.
A high school valedictorian, math whiz, and mom’s 6-foot 4-inch tall teddy bear, Eddie Bailey started feeling sick on a Sunday. He went to class on Monday, and died from bacterial meningitis Tuesday. He was 20 years old.
For Bailey, the shocking event changed her life and her lifestyle forever.
"When this happens to you, you spend years [asking] Why? How?" ,” Bailey said. “This cannot happen to another family because it decimates people. And as long as I am breathing, I have to help others because that was Eddie's legacy. And unless it happens to you, people can't fully understand it. It’s so life-altering."
Bailey pushed for legislation after her son's death, and helped make it mandatory for UW to hand out meningitis information to students. On top of that, the law requires University Health Services to ask students when they had their last meningitis vaccine. However, college students are not obligated to get the shot under Wisconsin statute.
That doesn't mean UHS executive director Dr. Sarah Van Orman is not encouraging students to pursue that vaccine.
"The most important message, I think, for students in terms of prevention and protection has to do with being vaccinated and then also understanding the signs of illness going in," Van Orman said.
In addition to complying with state law, Van Orman said UHS sends routine emails to students, reminding them to update their shots and check their vaccine status. There are also oral presentations made to parents during orientation.
Van Orman said there have been ten confirmed cases of meningitis at UW over the last 10 years.
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