Metro Detroit mother wants others to benefit from her heart ache

Ferndale mother lost her son to bacterial meningitis, now helps raise awareness about diseaase, vaccine

Published On: May 18 2012 03:23:06 PM EDT   Updated On: May 21 2012 12:00:38 PM EDT

A metro Detroit mother cannot forget the day her son, Christopher Todd, got sick.

Michele Goecke said her two-year-old suddenly became very sick. They rushed him to the hospital, but a short while later he died. Doctors said he had bacterial meningitis.

That was 14 years ago.

The pain of losing Christopher Todd, is still very real for Goecke. An email from her husband's work earlier this year, Michigan State University, about a student who was sick, possibly from bacterial meningitis, brought that pain back.

"At that time my other son was two and a half and that was the exact same age little Todd was when he passed," said Goecke.

Goecke has two young sons, JT who is almost three and Matthew who is one. She also has an older son, Gregory, who is Christopher Todd's big brother.

The news about others suffering from bacterial meningitis spurred Goecke to action. After seeing the email from MSU, she contacted the National Meningitis Association and offered to help educate families about the disease and how to prevent it. She has already spoke at one school.

"Fourteen years later, I was still shocked to hear some parents had no idea there was a vaccination," said Goecke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends meningococcal immunization for all children who are 11 to 12 years old, with a booster dose at age 16. The vaccine is also recommended for others at increased risk for meningococcal meningitis; including college freshmen living in dorms.

The CDC said the meningococcal vaccine is recommended for certain high risk children from ages nine months to 10 years.

Goecke's sons JT and Gregory have been vaccinated. She said Matthew will be soon.

"Even if you don't believe in vaccinations, know the signs," said Goecke. "If you're child's fine and then all of a sudden spikes a fever for no reason at all and rapidly starts declining, don't hesitate, go to the hospital now."

Important symptoms include headache, high fever, a very stiff neck, confusion, problems with alertness and sometimes a rash.

No one knows how Goecke's son contracted it but generally meningitis is spread by close contact with saliva for example, sharing a glass or water bottle, kissing, or sharing a cigarette are routes of spread.

There are many different bacteria that can cause meningitis, and some of them are covered in other vaccines we give to young children. For meningococcal meningitis, the vaccine protects against the most common strains but not all of them so there will be occasional cases that pop up.

For more information on the National Meningitis Association and its outreach programs, click here.