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Olympic swimmer urges meningitis vaccinations for kids

Meningitis can kill an otherwise healthy child in 24 hours, she says.

Dara Torres (Courtesy of Get in the Game) Dara Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist. Credit:Get in the Game

Many parents carefully pack protective gear for summer sports, like helmets and kneepads.

But one thing parents might not think of is a vaccination for meningitis — even though it can spread in close quarters like sports teams, through passed water bottles or shared gym mats.

Twelve-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres is on a mission to amp up vaccination awareness, especially among parents of active children.

“It’s easier to contract something like that in shared space,” she explains.

Torres, who has a daughter, 7, and 13-year-old twins, got involved with the Get in the Game prevention campaign after finding out that meningitis can kill a healthy child in as little as 24 hours.

Another scary stat? The symptoms mimic the flu, causing many to assume it is a cold that will pass.

Parents should discuss a vaccination with their healthcare provider, Torres says, an easy option to ensure they avoid the “nasty” disease.

That’s what Baltimore native Rayna Dubose, 29, calls it – a rising basketball star, meningitis stripped her of her lifestyle by causing amputations to both legs and arms at 17.

One day, she was a college freshman who thought she had the flu. The next, she was waking up from a three-week coma in the hospital to distraught family members and news of amputations.

“As soon as my freshman year started, it came to a screeching halt,” she says. “It was devastating.”

Another survivor helping with the Voices of Meningitis awareness group, Jamie Schanbaum, 24, from Austin, wants parents to know that a vaccination could have averted her losing her fingers and legs.

“This could have been prevented,” she says. “No one should have to learn how to walk when you’re 20.”

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison

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