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The Call That Changed My Life: A Mother Shares Her Meningitis Story

Sep 27, 2017, 10:52 AM

Watching your child fight for her life is the worst possible experience a parent could ever have. It was by far the worst time in my life.

My name is Sheri Purdy. You may know my daughter, Amy Purdy, a world class snowboarder, Paralympic®* medalist, philanthropist, and – just last year – a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars®**.” Today, Amy is a thriving and accomplished young woman, but when she was only 19, she contracted meningococcal meningitis and almost didn’t make it. It changed our lives forever.

I remember it was a summer day when Amy came home from work early and said she wasn’t feeling well and was extremely tired. That night, Amy had a temperature of 101 with typical flu-like symptoms. The next morning, thinking it was just the flu, I had left to meet my husband out of town. Just a few hours later I received a phone call from a hospital saying Amy might not make it through the night.

It took about 72 hours to get the diagnosis, because it takes that long for the culture to come back. The doctors gave her many antibiotics because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. Her life was so fragile. Minute by minute we were just holding our breath, praying. After receiving the diagnosis that Amy had meningococcal meningitis, it was so shocking and we were all in disbelief. It was hard to believe that what started out to seem like the flu had progressed so quickly.

Amy was in the hospital for about two and a half months, including five days during which she was in an induced coma. She lost her spleen, kidney function, and hearing in her left ear. Due to the septic shock she developed, Amy ended up losing both of her legs below the knees.

While not all meningococcal meningitis patients’ stories are as extreme as Amy’s, we feel blessed to have our daughter. In 1999, when Amy got meningococcal meningitis, no vaccines for this disease were widely recommended. Since then, I have become very educated on the topic and want everyone to know the following:

  • Early symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can be misinterpreted as the flu[i]
  • 1 in 10 of those who develop meningococcal disease will die[ii]
  • There are five common forms of bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis – A, B, C, W and Y[iii]
  • Until 2014, there was no vaccine to help protect against invasive meningococcal group B disease in the United States, which accounts for approximately 40% of all cases[iv]

Moms take the health of their families very seriously, which is why I wanted to share our story – so that it will spark a conversation between you, your child and a healthcare professional. I encourage each of you to learn more about how to help protect your adolescent and young adult children from meningococcal meningitis by talking to a healthcare provider or by going to KnowMeningitis.com and pledging to do so.

[i] Mayo Clinic. Diseases and conditions: meningitis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/disease-conditions/meningitis/basics/prevention/con-20019713?p=1. Accessed February 11, 2015.

[ii] Cohn AC, MacNeil JR, Harrison LH, et al. Changes in Neisseria meningitidis disease epidemiology in the United States, 1998-2007: implications for prevention of meningococcal disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50(2):184-191.

[iii] Pinto VB, Burden R, Wagner A, Moran EE, Lee C. The Development of an Experimental Multiple Serogroups Vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis. PLoS ONE. 2013; 8(11):1-10.

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active Bacterial Core Surveillance (ABCs) Report Emerging Infections Program Network – Neisseria meningitidis, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/abcs/reports-findings/survreports/mening12.html. Accessed February 11, 2015.


Sheri Purdy is a meningitis activist and mother of world-class snowboarder and meningococcal meningitis survivor Amy Purdy. Sheri and Amy have launched Take Action Against Meningitis with Pfizer to help educate about meningococcal meningitis. For each pledge, Pfizer will donate $1 – up to $20,000 – to Adaptive Action Sports, the not-for-profit organization Amy co-founded to help young people, wounded veterans and adults with permanent physical disabilities get involved in action sports.