Battle with Meningitis helps students avoid the same fate



Posted on April 30, 2010 at 9:18 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 30 at 10:25 PM

Meningitis is an inflammation of the Meniges lining of the brain.  Doctors say is it usually caused by an infection brought on by a virus or bacteria.  It's especially dangerous and even life threatening if that infection spreads into the bloodstream.  One UT student's battle with the illness is helping others avoid the same fate.

Like many UT students, Jamie Schanbaum, 21, loves riding a bike around Austin.

"There's nothing like riding a bike with all the wind, it's nice," said Schanbaum.

But when Schanbaum rides she steers with hands missing every finger and her bike is propelled with the help of prosthetics.  Schanbaum's legs were amputated below the knees, as well as her fingers and thumbs, after she came down with Meningitis in November of 2008.

"I would be walking up and looking at my limbs and they would get darker and darker and purple, more purple, and then it became black, all my fingers were black," said Schanbaum.

Schanbaum's Meningitis had entered her bloodstream, resulting in necrosis, where various bodily systems start shutting down.

"Her toes and fingers started to die just because of lack of blood supply and lack of oxygen," said Juan Latorre M.D., Medical Director of the Spinal Cord Injury and Amputee Program at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital.

That prompted the amputation of her fingers and legs three months after her diagnosis. 

"After they first took off my bandages, I was scared because ...  I had bones still sticking out," said Schanbaum.

As for the reaction she still gets: "I get some pretty bad stares and I just don't know how to respond to it.  Then there are those people that come up to me and go, 'That is awesome.'" 

Schanbaum has decided to move on with her life.  With the help of her occupational therapist at St. David's, Bob Whitford, she's learning to drive again "just to be independent again and not really have my mother drop me off everywhere."

After watching her daughter's struggles, Jamie's mom, Patsy, was instrumental in passing the Jamie Schanbaum Act, a law making a Meningitis vaccine mandatory for college students who live in student housing in Texas. 

"It's really cool, it's a good icebreaker," said Jamie.  "I don't really know anyone that has a bill named after them."