FRIDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Carl Buher came home from
the football game feeling rotten.
A strong, healthy, 14-year-old high school freshman, Carl had
attended a day's worth of school and then played in the game, but
it felt as if he were coming down with the flu. That made sense: A
lot of his teammates had recently had the flu, and he figured
they'd just passed it on to him.
So he came home, ate, did his homework and went to bed, recalled
Carl's mother, Lori Buher of La Conner, Wash.
When she woke him up in the morning, Carl told her he'd been up
all night vomiting. "We figured he had the flu, so he stayed home
from school," Buher said.
The first sign that Carl might be sicker than they thought came
in the form of purple bruises that began to form, first on his face
and then down his arms and legs. By 2 p.m., Buher took her son to
the doctor, concerned for his health.
The doctor diagnosed Carl quickly and, as it turned out,
accurately: The teen had contracted meningococcal meningitis.
The diagnosis took Buher by surprise. "He had none of the
symptoms you hear about," she said. "No stiff neck. No terrible
headache. No high fever."
The family physician sent Carl to the local hospital's emergency
room. Within hours he was being airlifted to Seattle Children's
"His heart stopped twice on the helicopter," Buher said. "They had to revive him."
This was in 2003, and Buher knew about meningitis and knew that
a vaccine was available to prevent it. But at the time, the vaccine
-- Menomune -- wasn't recommended for kids Carl's age. Teens headed
for college were supposed to get the vaccine, but even that was a
shaky proposition. Buher's two college-age kids were on a waiting
list for Menomune vaccination but hadn't received it yet because
supplies were short.
Now her son Carl was incredibly sick with the disease. She and
her husband hurriedly made the hour's drive to Seattle. "When we
got there, they had a social worker waiting to help us prepare for
his death," she remembers. "It was so overwhelming."
Doctors put Carl in a drug-induced coma, in which he lingered
for five weeks. His mother recalls that he was given more than 25
different medications to keep his body functioning.
Nonetheless, meningitis ravaged Carl's body. He had to have both
legs amputated below the knee, and he also lost three fingers. The
purple bruising turned out to be his skin dying, which led to
gangrene. Carl endured skin grafts all over his body, 13 in all,
and still bears the scars. His weight fell from 185 to 119
But Carl is 21 now and a junior at Gonzaga University in
Spokane, Wash., majoring in civil engineering. He graduated from
high school as class valedictorian in 2007.
"He had just started walking on his prosthetics by then because it took the skin so long to heal," Buher said. His doctors and parents declared him fully healed in 2008 -- five years after he first fell ill.
"He's very strong," Buher said of her son these days. "He's still not nimble with the prosthetics, but he can do what he wants to do."
Buher said it breaks her heart that all of this might have been
prevented, and she urges parents to get their kids vaccinated.
"It's just so sad," she said. "Kids die, or they are left with these terrible, disfiguring amputations. For us, we were able to survive this. For so many families, their children die -- and it's just unnecessary."
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