On World Meningitis Day, National Meningitis Association President Reflects on 20 Years

Lynn Bozof Shares Her Story, Highlights Importance of Meningococcal Vaccination

April 24, 2018

April 20, 1998, is a day my family will never forget nor ever get over.  It was the day our 20-year-old son, Evan, lost his 26-day battle with meningococcal meningitis.  On March 26, 1998, the day Evan was diagnosed, we knew nothing about meningococcal disease, other than that it was something that happened to other people.

That March 26 was a dreary, still wintry day.   When we returned home after Evan’s funeral, weeks later in April, everything looked different.  The trees and flowers had bloomed – brilliant pinks and yellows.  How could the world look so pretty when my heart was so devastated? Those images have stuck with me for 20 years.

Losing our son irrevocably changed our lives. Now, every day is cast in his shadow. One of my brightest sources of light has been keeping Evan’s memory alive by encouraging families and young people to learn about and protect themselves against meningococcal meningitis.

When Evan got sick, we drove three hours to his university, not knowing if he would be alive when we got there.  Those were the days before we had cell phones.  We stopped midway to check on him.  The hospital told us it was very critical.  When we first saw Evan in an oxygen tent, Evan told my husband it took every ounce of energy he had to roll over.

Each of those 26 days when Evan was in the hospital came with its own nightmare, but there are a few that stand out more than others.  My younger son, Ryan, asked me if there was life after death – this was after we had been told that Evan had a 1% chance of survival.  I was trying to absorb what the doctors were saying, while at the same time choosing words to comfort my younger son.

Then there was the night that Evan came out of sedation, unexpectedly, and saw his arms and legs black and charred from gangrene.  No one thought he had the strength to lift himself up.  Evan was intubated, so he couldn’t talk to us, but we could see the terror in his eyes.  He went into a panic attack, with his fever spiking and all numbers out of whack.  A wonderful neurologist came in and talked to Evan, told him he had almost died but would be okay.  After that, the sedation was increased so Evan would not wake up unexpectedly.

Then the day of the amputations – the nurse coming into the waiting room four times, after each limb was amputated, and finally the neurologist telling us Evan was brain dead.

During this time, we learned that a vaccine was available that could have saved his life – if only we had we known about it, if only there had there been routine recommendations handed down from the CDC to physicians to families and teenagers.  But in 1998, there were no such recommendations.  The only young adults getting vaccinated were military recruits who lived in barracks; teenagers like Evan, living in college dorms (like barracks in many ways), remained unprotected. We were stunned and heartbroken that we’d never been told about the vaccine.

At that point my family decided that if we didn’t know about the vaccine, there were so many other families who did not know as well.  We made it our mission to educate others about meningococcal disease and its prevention, and thus the National Meningitis Association (NMA) was born. We have come so far, but there is still much to be done.

Despite relatively greater awareness and availability of meningococcal vaccines, many people still don’t know anything about meningococcal meningitis. If they do, it’s likely they’re like I was – blissfully oblivious, only assuming it’s a disease that happens to other people. Many of those who need the meningococcal vaccines are adolescents and young adults headed to college.  They may feel invincible. Although this disease is rare, it is deadly, and if you haven’t been vaccinated it does not discriminate.

As I approach this 20-year anniversary, I am still devastated and always will be.  You can’t lose a child and feel otherwise.  I hope the NMA’s efforts have saved lives, so that Evan didn’t die in vain.

Evan once said to me when he was younger, that he wished he were a tree, because trees don’t die.  Evan – you weren’t a tree, you were a beautiful, terribly missed son and brother.  You will always be alive in our hearts.

Please visit Immunize.org or CDC.gov for the most up-to-date vaccination information

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  • Ivan Filippenko

    How heart-wrenching, Lynn. My deepest condolences to you and your family for your two decades of unimaginable grief. 🙁 And my deep admiration for the positive purpose that you have fashioned from it. Surely there was, and is, no better way to honor your son Evan’s memory. Through your efforts, he indeed lives on as a tree whose protective branches shield others from these terrible diseases. You have made his wish come true! In his sacrifice his life found a great purpose which has undoubtedly helped, and saved, many others. This is more than most of us will be able to say about our own lives. I hope you find solace in that. I am grateful to know Evan’s story and such a caring family as yours. Thank you for your very meaningful work. My wife Reka joins me in these sentiments. Sincerely, Ivan