At 17, Kimberly Coffey was vibrant and healthy, and looking forward to starting college to become a pediatric nurse.
She was beautiful with a radiant smile, a caring heart, and a witty sense of humor. She loved to sing, dance and perform in school musicals. Her greatest joy was a sunny day at the beach with her toes in the sand. Kimberly lived life from her heart, and she had so much more life to live.
As a high school senior, Kimberly came home from school one afternoon complaining of body aches and a fever of 101. Her pediatrician recommended that she come to the office the following morning if her flu-like symptoms didn’t improve. The next morning, it was clear that this was something much more serious.
She complained that her entire body hurt from her “eyelashes down to her toes,” and she felt like her ankles were "bleeding." As a registered nurse, I recognized the tiny purple dots on her ankle and panicked. Shortly after, she complained of intense pain in her back, where a dark purple rash had spread within a matter of minutes. She was rushed to the Emergency Room.
When the doctor in the ER told me she suspected Kimberly had bacterial meningitis, it didn’t seem possible because she had been vaccinated. I had made sure that both of my children were up to date on all of their vaccines, including the meningococcal vaccination.
I later learned that the meningococcal vaccine Kimberly had received (serogroup ACWY) did not protect her against meningitis B (serogroup B). I also learned that at the time, in 2012, there wasn’t a meningitis B vaccine available in the U.S. I was under the false impression that Kimberly was fully protected, when in fact, she was not.
Within hours of Kimberly’s first symptoms, her heart and kidneys were failing. The purple rash had now spread all over her body, and she was rapidly losing blood flow to her extremities. Two days later, the official diagnosis was confirmed. Kimberly had meningococcemia — the meningococcal bacteria had infected her blood, and she was fighting for her life. After starting dialysis for her failing kidneys, she went into cardiac arrest. She was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator. Kimberly still had brain activity, and we still had hope. As the days stretched on, it was apparent that if Kimberly survived, she would likely be a quadruple amputee.
Not too long after, Kimberly was declared brain dead. I had to make the most difficult decision of my life to remove my beautiful 17-year-old daughter from life support. There is not one hour that goes by that I don’t think about her.
Kimberly Coffey was buried three days before her high school graduation in the prom dress she didn’t get to wear. She didn’t have the opportunity to be vaccinated against Meningitis B.