Today is my brothers birthday, he would have been twenty five. It has been nine years since he died, but sometimes the pain feels as raw as it did the day that it happened. Although time helps heal, there is nothing that can ever take it away. In a matter of two days my brother went from being a healthy teenage boy, to brain-dead. Meningitis killed my brother and by the time we knew what was happening, there was nothing we could do about it.
Occasionally, I think about those two days. The day everything happened, and the day nothing happened. They play out in my memories like flashbacks from a movie.
I was a few months shy of seventeen and had started my first summer job. My mother called me while I was driving home and told me that Drew was sick and asked me to pick him up some 7up. When I got home my brother was laying in my mother’s recliner, covered with blankets and moaning of a headache. I gave him some medicine and put some frozen peas on the back of his neck, but something seemed off, which is something that still haunts me to this day.
I called my parents and told them that they should come home and take him to the doctor, and that is what they did.
The next thing I remember is waking up to yelling. I was confused. I ran to my parent’s bedroom and found them trying to wake up my brother. I didn’t know what they wanted or needed me to do, but I made the decision to call 9-1-1. My body and voice shook, and in the middle of giving the operator our information, my dad yelled for me to help. My dad wanted help moving Drew from their bedroom to our front room. Drew started having seizures. I will spare the details, the ones that play on re-run in my mind, they hurt too bad. I had never witnessed a seizure before. I dropped his feet in panic and instantly started crying. For a long time I carried guilt for that, it took a while for me to share that with anybody.
Following the ambulance to the hospital was the longest ten minute drive of my life. So many questions, and no answers.
I don’t remember a lot between arriving at the hospital that day and being woken up the following morning.
My grandma came to stay with my sister and I while my parents stayed with my brother in the ICU. Sometime early in the morning my parents called and said that we needed to come to the hospital because they did not think he would make it. Wouldn’t make it? He was just fine. He just had the flu. They took him to the DOCTOR and the DOCTOR sent him home; and hours later, he isn’t going to make it?
I remember sitting in the hospital that day. It all seemed surreal, like it literally could not be happening. Not to him and not to us.
The moment that we found out that he was dead, was a moment that I wish I could forget. We were all in a small room, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my brother and sister. My mother walked into the room with two doctors by her side. My eyes were fixed on her and my chest was so heavy that I could not breathe. Tears filled her eyes and her voice shook as she told us. I have never felt such pain before, I fell to my knees and started crying. Life was so unfair.
My parents made the decision to donate his organs and as a result Drew was kept on life support even though he was brain-dead. His chest was still moving up and down and he looked like was merely sleeping. I held on to him and wept, I kissed his hand and cheek, and said goodbye. That was the last time that I ever saw him.
My heart was shattered by losing my brother. My heart was broken even more by watching my parents. Now that I have children of my own, I can not imagine what my parents were going through. I never want to. The very thought of losing one of my babies is nauseating, and my parents live the hellish nightmare every day.
The week following my brother’s death was a whirlwind. There were preparations, visitors, cards, flowers, food, and media. Drew’s death was a hot news topic. I had reporters calling my cellphone for an interview. I had a clerk at the local grocery store ask me if I heard about the Bothell Football Player who died. Yes, I replied, he was my brother. My life changed in every way.
My brother was one year, one month, and fifteen days younger than me. He died from Bacterial Meningitis on July 7, 2004 at the age of fifteen. We believe he contracted Meningitis after attending a high school football camp. He was happy, healthy, and athletic. He showed flu-like systems, and died within the next 48 hours. Even though he was brought to the Doctor promptly and Meningitis was brought up, there was no spinal tap done and he was misdiagnosed. Every second counts when it comes to Meningitis.
I live every day wishing that I had known about Meningitis at the time. Meningococcal disease, is a very serious but vaccine-preventable bacterial infection. For a long time after his death I carried a tremendous burden of guilt. I knew that something was wrong, but I did not know what. I had my parents leave work early to take him to the doctor, what if I had been more insistent that something else was wrong? Would he still be alive? I do not know.
There are two reasons that I wanted to share this story with you. Writing is therapeutic for me. When I write down my feelings and memories I can not hide behind them. However, the main reason I wanted to share is, it was recently brought to my attention that there was a Meningitis outbreak at Princeton University. Knowledge can save a life. If sharing my story, regardless of how personal it is, can spare even one family from going through the continual heartache my family lives with- it is completely worth it.
You can read about Drew’s story on The National Meningitis Associations’s website here: http://www.nmaus.org/awareness/washington.htm
or from The Seattle Times http://seattletimes.com/html/obituaries/2001976433_bothell10e.html