Daniel J Vance

Swelling and inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal fluid

Becky Werner would have turned 26 on December 2.

“She woke up one morning and said she wasn’t feeling well,” said 54-year-old Dee Warner, Becky’s mother. “It was February 24, 2004. She was an honor student, had never missed school, and that day I told her to stay home.” In many ways, Becky was a typical 20-year-old college student. She was fun-loving, and loved animals, her car, and boys.

“When I got home at seven that night, all the lights were out, which was odd,” said Dee. “Becky said she was all right, but had been in bed all day.”

Dee thought Becky had the flu. She checked in on Becky throughout the night and several times found her on the floor curled up in a ball. At 5:30 a.m., Dee gasped when she noticed Becky’s eyes had rolled into the back of her head. Immediately, Dee and her husband drove her to St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her fingertips were turning deep blue. As the day progressed, her liver and kidneys shut down. Eventually, 30 friends and family members were there when her heart stopped beating.

A National Institutes of Health website defines meningitis as “swelling and inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal fluid. The inflammation causes changes in the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.” It is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, with the latter type far more serious, often resulting in death, permanent brain damage, deafness, hydrocephalus or blindness.

After the funeral, people were giving the Werners money. They took those funds, had a golf outing to raise more, and eventually began The Becky Werner Meningitis Foundation. Said Dee, “I just thought Becky was telling me I had to do something like this.”

Today, the Werners work full-time day jobs and, when asked, give free meningitis presentations part-time at high schools. Last year, they spoke to more than 7,000 U.S. students. Their message? Get vaccinated, and don’t share your food, lipstick, sodas, and water bottles. The Werners want to spare other families from going through a similar tragedy.

“The vaccination for meningitis is only 85 percent effective,” said Dee. “There is no vaccine against (one particular strain) that can kill you or cause deafness, blindness, seizures, or multiple amputated limbs.” Thus, the plea to not share food or lipstick with others.

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