Meningitis victim fights to mandate vaccines

April 26, 2010 4:56:54 PM PDT
Life has changed dramatically for Jamie Schanbaum in past 2 years. She's walking now on her own, and she's driving. Her life is only back on track after a terrifying ordeal that took her to death's doorstep.

"I've gone through so much in the past year," Schanbaum said.

In 2008, Schanbaum contracted bacterial meningitis. A severe infection made things worse. Her body almost shut down.

Miraculously, she survived, but only to face another adversary ? flesh-eating bacteria.

"Seeing my hands and legs turning different colors and just thinking, 'Well, I'm at a hospital. They'll fix it and I'll be back at school next week,'" she said.

But her youthful optimism was dashed by harsh reality when she learned her hands and legs above the knee would be amputated.

ABC 13 spoke with Schanbaum early last year during her emotional 7-month stay at St. Joseph Hospital. Our cameras were there for one of the more than 50 dives she made in a hyperbaric chamber in hopes of saving her arms and legs. Her life then was a blur.

"Two years ago I was, like, full able-bodied," she said. "And being in the hospital I thought I would never just, like, have my life back."

But things could have been much different if she had gotten the meningitis vaccine when she was younger.

"It's not because I'm not educated, but the awareness wasn't there," her mother, Patsy Schanbaum said. "I just didn't realize the damage that this could do -- within hours."

Jamie Schanbaum's story led to the passing of the Jamie Schanbaum act, which was signed into law last august by Gov. Rick Perry. It requires meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living in dormitories in Texas. It went into effect at the beginning of this year.

"It was Jamie Schanbaum's story that did it," Sen. Eddie Lucio said. "I think she's gonna be an incredible advocate, you know, in the future for this not to happen -- not only on our campuses, but anywhere in our state and country."

Jamie Schanbaum has returned to classes at the University of Texas with some new prosthetics, a new determination to finish school, and a mission to educate people about the potential dangers of meningitis.

"It's powerful to know that I've probably saved someone's life," she said.


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