Andy Marso will roll up his sleeves to show you what meningitis stole from him.

He lost most of his fingers and has scars on his arms after catching what he thought was the flu as a senior at the University of Kansas in 2004.

Another meningitis survivor, Maggi Pivovar, is on her 11th pair of artificial legs. The 44-year-old mother of four wore them to the Nebraska Capitol on Tuesday along with a pair of bright pink flats and dark tights tucked in at her knees.

This woman with no legs and this man without fingers want Nebraska to require the meningitis vaccine, the goal of a bill introduced this year by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha.

Some 800 to 1,500 Americans get meningococcal disease, a form of meningitis, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 14 percent die; others develop severe scarring, seizure disorders or brain damage.

It's a devastating but rare disease, Marso said, but "it is not rare enough."

Krist's bill (LB18) would make the CDC-recommended meningitis vaccine a requirement of all students before entering seventh grade, and again after turning 16. 

"The school is probably the best place to make sure this happens," Krist told members of the Legislature's Education Committee on Tuesday. 

A third of those diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis are teenagers and young adults, according to the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia mandate immunization for school-age children.

Many college campuses require vaccination of incoming students, as well. It is recommended, but not required, for freshmen living in dorms at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

When Marso got sick, KU emailed his name to the entire student body, warning that he'd been hospitalized with bacterial meningitis and encouraging anyone who'd been in contact with him to take antibiotics. More than 200 people did.

The next school year, the campus required all students to receive the vaccine.

"It took me getting sick for that to happen," Marso said Tuesday. "I don't want that to be the case at Nebraska-Lincoln. ... Don't wait for one of your Cornhusker students to get seriously ill to make this change."

His story to lawmakers centered not on his experience — amputations on four limbs, four months in a hospital burn unit, and a year of recovery that cost his insurance company more than $2 million. Instead, he talked about his dad.

The night before he went to the hospital, Marso called his father 500 miles away in Minnesota and told him he was sick.

The next day, a doctor called his dad: Marso was being flown to a trauma unit in Kansas City.

"When you arrive at the hospital, your son is on a ventilator," Marso said, describing is dad's experience. "His organs are failing. His limbs are purple and swollen almost to the point of being beyond recognition.

"You watch your son hover between life and death for three weeks.

"He comes out of it; his organs stabilize. And there's joy, but that joy is tempered by the fact that you have to explain to him that his limbs are rotting while still attached to his body."

Marso continued, his voice breaking, "Imagine going through all of that, and then imagine that there was a vaccine that could have prevented (it). How could you look your child in the eye?"

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

The vaccine will prevent about 75 percent of cases, according to Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department.

Krist's bill is backed by various medical associations, including the Nebraska School Nurses Association. But opponents have raised concerns about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.

"I'm not ready to mandate something, especially a vaccination that only covers 75 percent of the bacteria that causes it," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, a member of the committee. "I have a concern about passing laws because you feel like you should do it."

"I've got nothing against vaccinations," Groene said, but Tuesday's testimony didn't do enough to establish that meningitis is a problem in Nebraska.

Marso lives in Topeka, Kansas. Pivovar, who attended Creighton University and met her husband in Omaha, lives in Kansas City.

Her children had to get used to "a new mom" after she contracted the disease, said Pivovar, who home-schooled her kids, who were 10, 9, 4 and 1½ years old when she contracted meningitis.

"I couldn't remember whole conversations I had with people," she said, "and it would be two years before I was tested and treated for a brain injury. I cried myself to sleep many nights from severe pain, which felt like lightning shooting down my legs to my toes, which were no longer there."

She still has depression, nerve pain, attention deficit disorder and osteoporosis.

Pivovar didn't know about the vaccine before she got sick, she said. Now all her children have received it.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com. On Twitter @zachamiLJS.


Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

Load comments