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LIFE & ENTERTAINMENT

 

Meningitis Angels raise awareness and save lives

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kathy Parks

Class is back in session and the Meningitis Angels are on duty. The “Teen Angels” dress in camouflage, prepared to do battle with a preventable disease that most often afflicts youth from age 10 to 24. “After Ryan’s death, I founded Meningitis Angels, a nonprofit group that has become an international network for education, prevention, support and assistance to those affected by the deadly disease,” said Frankie Milley, national executive director. Ryan Wayne Milley arrived early, taken at eight months by C-section, on Sept. 20, 1979. He also departed early, on June 22, 1998, at age 18. This September would have been his 30th birthday and his family still grieves. In April of 1998, Ryan went to his prom. In May, he graduated from New Caney High School. That June, he came home from work ill, complaining of an earache and fever, no other symptoms. At 10:30 that night he was rushed to the hospital and died of meningococcal meningitis. More than 500 people attended this young man’s funeral. He left behind many friends and family members in Humble and Atascocita. “I stay very busy,” said Milley. “I spend 80 percent of my time getting the word out and trying to help my angels.” In the past, Meningitis Angels has held all its national meetings in January, at Homewood Suites in Kingwood, but Milley admits the group is quickly outgrowing the space. “Right now, we’re planning a town hall meeting for kids in the area,” said Milley. “We hope to gather hundreds of teens. We reach out to them through Facebook and YouTube with music and entertainment they love.” The program, “Teens to Teens on Vaccines,” allows teens affected by this disease to talk candidly with teens likely to contract this disease or other diseases where vaccines are available. The teens explain common ways to transmit diseases such as meningitis. Those habits that increase their chances are sharing drinks and living in close quarters with large numbers of kids. They also discuss the symptoms, which include: unrelenting fever, leg pain, cold hands and feet, abnormal skin color, headache, rash, stiff neck and sensitivity to light. They always cover the importance of getting vaccinated. Meningitis Angels pull in health care professionals and a variety of other professionals to help prevent and live with the effects of these preventable diseases. “The efforts of the organization are making a difference already. The meningitis vaccine was new on the list of required back-to-school immunizations,” said Milley. The organization is financed through grants, fundraising, speaking engagements and individual donations. The money raised helps those suffering with a variety of diseases to cope with medical costs. Additional funds pay for an education program that has spread nationwide. Milley is a member of the Texas Department of Health Immunization Stakeholder Working Group and team leader for the Confederaton of Meningitis Organizations. She has been honored for her work by Governor Rick Perry, and by the Houston Area Immunization Partnership. Her greatest recognition came in the form of a letter from President George Bush. She has been married to Bob Milley for 35 years and enjoys photography, gardening and writing. Ryan was the couple’s only child. For more information, visit www.meningitis-angels.org, or e-mail Milley at meningitisangels@aol.com. Photo: The Teen Angel Vaccinators, from left top row are Carye Wynn of New Jersey, Christian Lewis of Thicket, Leslie Meigs of Houston, Beary Wise (Lacey Lewis of Thicket), Emma Issacs of New Caney, Summer Stokes of Humble and Kiley Menard of Louisiana, Bottom row, Andrew Meigs of Houston and Adam Issacs of New Caney. The group helps raise awareness of the importance of vaccinations.

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