UT Meningitis Victim Prevails in Paralympics, Legal Realm

Final exams, tough professors, 8 a.m. classes—most college students think they’ve got it hard. But as Jamie Schanbaum knows all too well, in the blink of an eye it can get a whole lot worse.

Almost two years ago, The Alcalde reported on Schanbaum, then a UT sophomore who had just managed to survive a battle with bacterial meningitis. The potentially deadly, fast-moving disease claimed both her legs and six of her fingers, but spared her life.

In 2009, Schanbaum and her family lobbied for legislation requiring meningitis vaccines for all college students residing in university dorms. The state responded by passing the Jamie Schanbaum Act doing just that.

Fast-forward two years and Schanbaum, now a junior in the College of Natural Sciences, has even more to be thankful for. Last month she won a gold medal in the USA Cycling Paralympic Road National Championships.

Before I got sick, my bike and I were really close,” she explained on her blog. “We would bike 10 blocks to school every day (never once took the bus or my car), go to my friends’ in West Campus, go to HEB, go to Epoch Coffee to study, and any other place our pedals would take us. But once I got sick, and went through the whole realization that I would have my legs amputated, my hope to ever ride again was gone.

The belief and support of others, from fellow amputees to a trainer to a prostitist, helped Jamie get back on a bike. “Since then,” she wrote, “I have met pretty incredible people that have motivated me and inspired me to get back up on that bike, and told me that it was possible to ride again.”

The latest triumph: a second law bearing her name will go into effect in January.

The Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act requires all college students to get the vaccine, regardless of whether they live on or off campus. Williams was a student at Texas A&M University living off-campus when he contracted the disease. He died of the disease last February.

Texas is the first state in the country to enact a law that affects every student, no matter what race, ethnicity, or gender.

According to University Health Services, between 1,400 and 3,000 people in the U.S. get meningococcal disease each year, including approximately 100 to 125 college students.

Photo: Jamie Schanbaum (center) completes 10 miles at the Livestrong Challenge in October. Photo from the Jamie Schanbaum Support and Medical Update Blog.


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