Emily's Meningitis Story
By Alicia Stillman, Emily’s mother
Emily Nicole Stillman was born September 11, 1993. As the second of Michael and Alicia Stillman’s three children, she would later refer to the fact that she had the “unluckiest” birthday, to which her mother always replied – “nope – it was one of the three luckiest days in our lives.”.
From the very beginning, Emily always wanted to be on stage. As she grew, her one-time high pitched, squeaky voice became loud, clear and projected with confidence. Though she performed countless times in her 19 years, her crowning jewel earned her first place in the State Forensics Competition during her Senior year of High School.
Emily had a strong charismatic presence. She made people laugh, and feel good about themselves. She loved spending time with and entertaining her family and friends. Her sense of humor, her improvisations, and her impersonations became famous among all who knew her.
On January 31, 2013 she called home from her dorm room at Kalamazoo College, where she was a sophomore student complaining of a headache. Alicia thought she could be coming down with the flu; Emily thought it was from lack of sleep the previous night where she had been up late studying. They decided she would take a few motrin and touch base in the morning.
Emily woke up several hours later and complained to her suitemates that her headache was worse, and she felt she should go to the hospital. She walked into the hospital with her backpack, her computer, her i-pad and her homework. She had no idea how sick she was.
Since Emily presented with only a headache, she was originally treated for a migraine. Only later that night, and into the next morning when the symptoms continued to progress, did they begin to suspect meningitis. As the diagnosis was confirmed, and an antibiotic treatment started immediately, Emily lost consciousness due to the severe swelling from the infection in her brain and spinal column.
Since Emily was 19 at the time, her parents were not called until the next morning. When Alicia was on her way to the hospital, she made several phone calls. She called her husband who was out of town. She called her parents who were out of town. She called Emily’s pediatrician to confirm that she had received the meningitis shot. And, multiple times, she called the hospital back to persuade them to double check the test results. She did not believe it was possible that Emily had bacterial meningitis because she had been vaccinated.
Alicia arrived at the Hospital to find her unconscious daughter being prepared for a craniotomy. It was explained that if Emily would survive this catastrophic illness, they must provide her severely swollen brain room to expand. In spite of the hopes and prayers of her family who had begun to congregate at her bedside throughout that day, the swelling never did decrease. A final medical test early in the morning the next day confirmed there was no brain activity. Emily was brain dead, and most likely had been from the time she originally lost consciousness. The morning of February 2, 2013, just after 36 hours in the hospital, Emily passed away. She was able to save 5 lives with 6 organs, and countless others with her bone and tissue.
Emily’s family was shocked to find out she had bacterial meningitis. They believed that their daughter was protected from this horrible disease because she had received the meningitis shot from her pediatrician when she was 11, and had received a booster dose before she left for college. They had never even heard of Meningitis B.