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Meningitis survivor pushes for vaccine requirement

Jamie Schanbaum, who lost her hands and legs to bacterial meningitis, is fighting to get every college student in America protected. (WOAI-TV)

A woman who lost her hands and legs to bacterial meningitis is fighting to get every college student in America protected from this strain of the disease.

The meningitis C vaccine is mandatory in several states, but Jamie Schanbaum wants the meningitis B vaccine included, too.

"I didn't know it was a life-threatening disease, and I didn't know that when you're on college campus you're at a higher risk of catching it. And I walked onto campus not knowing that and almost lost my life to the disease," Schanbaum said.

In 2008, as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, Schanbaum contracted meningococcal meningitis, an infection that attacks the tissue around the brain and the spinal cord.

"I was watching my limbs go from red rash within a couple of days to purple to black to rotting to decaying with my fingers shriveled up like raisins. And my feet curled up like ballerinas could not fathom. And I was just decaying," Schanbaum said.

She lost both legs below the knee and most of both hands. She spent seven months in a hospital.

Her mother went before the Texas Legislature to urge lawmakers to create a law requiring students who live on campus to get the meningitis vaccine. It passed.

"I got meningitis C. So that vaccine was available, and I didn't know about it. And if I had gotten it, I would have been fine," Schanbaum said.

Even though it's typically spread in places like dormitories, Schanbaum got it while living off campus and knew more had to be done.

In 2011, after the death of a Texas A&M student who also lived off campus, she helped get the law amended to include all college students in Texas.

Schanbaum, now 28, said her next mission is to get the law amended to include the meningitis B vaccine so that all five strains of meningitis are covered.

Since 2011, immunization rates have gone up by 50 percent in Texas with more than 325,000 students getting vaccinated every year.

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