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‘My limbs were rotting off my body’

Jamie Schanbaum was living a seemingly normal college life in 2008.

She had friends. She dated. She went to social events. Then one night in November, the Austin, Texas, native came down with what she thought was the flu. Fourteen hours later, she was in the emergency room, so weak she could not walk and was close to death.

Medical personnel diagnosed Schanbaum, who was 20 at the time, with meningococcal septicemia. She was released from the hospital after seven grueling months, but the infectious disease had left its mark. The rare and often fatal disease turned her blood toxic, cutting off oxygen to her limbs.

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Read more of Jamie Schanbaum’s story at www.thejamiegroup.org.

“My limbs were rotting off my body,” she said. “I lost all my hair, and I was down to 80 pounds.”

Schanbaum told her story to students at Atrisco Heritage Academy on Friday afternoon as a cautionary tale. Her purpose, she said, was to encourage students to get the vaccine that prevents four of the disease’s five strains.

Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition, said the vaccination is recommended but not required, so not everyone gets it. She said because the disease can be deadly, everyone should protect themselves against it.

The coalition invited Schanbaum to New Mexico to speak to health care providers, as well as the high school students. A student asked Schanbaum why she never received the vaccine.

“I was never educated about it,” she said. “Nobody told me about it, and that I should get it. That’s why I want to share my story with you.”

Schanbaum’s legs were amputated below the knee, making it possible for her to wear prosthetics, but she had to relearn to walk. Although she lost all her fingers, she was able to keep her thumbs, but she still had to learn to do basic things like comb her hair and open a bag of chips. She can now ride a bike, swim and even drive.

Her mother, Patsy Schanbaum, has become an advocate who helped pass a law in Texas making it a requirement for students entering college to receive a meningitis vaccine. Schanbaum is attending college at the University of Texas at Austin and hopes to became a family counselor some day. She travels out of state about twice a month for speaking engagements.

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