Friday, November 30, 2012

FOREVER YOUNG

I don't often climb on a bandbox or even get too vocal about anything.  Today, however, I want to share something that is so very close to my heart.   It's a tragic story, one that I pray no one else ever has to live through.  For this reason, I am telling the tale and hoping everyone takes but a moment to read and make an informed decision for their own children.

This is in honor of you Jodi Lynn Kinney, you left us eleven years ago today, and there isn't a moment I don't remember your laughter and sweet face.  You will always be that 16 year old girl....


Forever Young


"When I grow up, I want to be just like you, Auntie Patti." Giggling and covered in flour, Jodi continued mixing the cookie dough. Just five years old, she needed a chair to reach the counter. My apron wrapped around her tiny waist twice and fell past her toes. That memory, so vivid and clear, brings fresh tears streaming down my face. It is one of more than a hundred memories I think of, as I sit by her side in this hospital room.

My mind flashed to another hospital room, sixteen years ago. The air was thick with excited anticipation. Standing next to the doctor, I was holding my breath as my sister, Cindi, pushed hard one last time. Her husband, Don, whispered encouragement as first the head, then the shoulders and finally our little Jodi made her appearance. I was the very first to lay eyes on her. I remember the shocked silence that followed the doctor's announcement, "It's a girl." Our Jodi was the first girl to be born in her dads' family in generations. We cried tears of joy when she was placed in her parent's arms. It was that very moment Jodi captured a place in my heart that would last forever.

Pulled from my memories, the nurse parts the curtains and sticks her head in. She sees the tears running down my cheeks and she mutters something about giving me a few more moments. I'm alone with my young niece. My sister had left for home to tell Jamie that her big sister was dead and she asked me to sit with Jodi as long as I could. The first to see her when she came into the world, I am now the last to sit with her after she has gone. Looking down at her face, I realize the fun-loving, giggling spirit that was "my Jodi" is no longer here. Letting go of her hand, I wipe away a stray piece of golden hair and silently say goodbye. The nurse reappears with tears in her eyes and takes my arm. I leave without looking back.

I don't remember Jodi ever crying. A child filled with laughter and a dimpled smile that could light the darkest room, Jodi was a practical joker. As she grew, the jokes became more elaborate; she just loved it when she was able to "get you". A favorite trick was to tie elastic around the sink sprinkler. When the water was turned on, the sprinkler would spray the victim square in the face. Immediately squeals of laughter were heard from the next room and Jodi would yell, "Gotcha!" Another infamous trick was to hide with the universal remote, changing channels when you thought you were alone. It could be eerie in the late night hours.

Jodi was a petite blond with fair skin. We used to compare arms to see whose skin was lighter or transparent, as we called it. Though she was my sister's daughter, we inherited the same complexion, crooked little finger and stubby toes from my maternal grandmother. We also shared a love of writing and would spend endless hours on the computer, sharing the pieces we wrote; talking about re-writes, critiques and point of views. I remember a piece she wrote for English class. A teacher assigned theme titled, "What I want to be when I grow up." Jodi had a tough time with this. Try as I might to encourage her to add more detail to her essay, Jodi stood firm writing, "When I grow up, I simply want to be the best person that I can be. If I can be all that I am capable of and all that I am meant to be, then I will be successful and happy." Disappointed with the B the teacher gave her paper, Jodi felt it said all that was needed and was proud of the finished product.

Yesterday she was a sixteen-year-old junior in high school, working at the local grocery store and dating a wonderful young man. Beginning clinicals at the local nursing home, she was rushing around to get her uniform and shoes ready before school. She was burning the candle at both ends, with the zest of life and energy that only teenagers possess. "I lead such a busy life," she told her mother that morning, with a touch of fatigue. My sister wasn't surprised when the call came from school saying she wasn't feeling well. The flu had been going around, and Jodi, run down from doing so much, had probably picked something up, my sister thought, as she tucked her into bed that afternoon. As the day went on, she got worse, complaining of a backache and nausea. Tucking her into bed that night, my sister told her, "If you're not feeling better in the morning, we will go see the doctor."

Jodi never saw the morning. She died at the hospital that evening of meningococcal disease. There was nothing anyone could have done, the doctors said. By the time the diagnosis was made, it was too late. Never had they seen anything develop so rapidly or deadly. One minute she was here, the next she was gone. Jodi had none of the telltale symptoms, nothing that would have alerted them to this disease. The doctor said, it was their worst nightmare come true and they were totally helpless. My giggling niece was dead at the age of 16.

No more beads to string, baskets to weave, ceramics to paint. No more meals to cook, Christmas cookies to bake or skirts to sew. No more shopping trips, funny stories or girl's nights. No more butterfly kisses and little girl wishes. My ambitious niece, who aspired to become a doctor working with children who had cancer, would never grow up.

There were no other local cases of this disease before, and luckily no one else contracted it after Jodi. The reasons why, aren't clear and they may never be. With school beginning around the country and the anniversary of Jodi's death approaching, I want to reach out and tell everyone of this deadly, fast spreading killer. 15% of the population carries the bacteria in the back of their throats. Meningococcal meningitis does not discriminate, and it is uncertain why the bacteria attack some people and not others. In every case, in every death, it is devastating to those family members left behind.

Meningitis is spread through close contact such as coughing, sneezing, kissing, or sharing drinks and cigarettes. There are approximately 3000 cases every year in the United States and 300 to 450 of those cases are fatal. Survivors of this disease suffer severe side effects ranging from organ damage, amputations and brain damage. Groups at risk include infants and young children, household members of patients, military personnel and college freshmen who live in dormitories.

Be aware and educate yourself and others. Meningitis can start out looking like a flu or migraine. Learn the warning signs and act quickly if you suspect even one or two of the symptoms of meningitis. Don't be afraid to call a doctor or go to the emergency room. This disease acts very quickly – sometimes in a matter of hours. Jodi didn't have any of the symptoms until it was too late. The symptoms are:

Headache
Fever
Vomiting
Numbness – Loss of Feeling
Stiff Neck
Seizures
Purple Spots or Rash
Disoriented – Confused

A vaccine, Menomune, has been available since the early 1980s. The Menomune lasts for 3 – 5 years and is 85 to 95% effective against meningitis. Sometimes the vaccine can be difficult to find, but as a parent you should be persistent and request it from your health care provider.

If just one person requests the vaccine from their doctor and is saved the devastating pain of loss that my family has endured, then the painful telling of Jodi's story will be worth it.

Please talk to your doctors, your pediatricians, and your public health workers. Ask questions. Become aware of the disease and the threat it can be to your child. Don't take a chance with your child's life. This disease can be prevented. Perhaps this is Jodi's legacy and her gift to all of us. The laughing young women, who wanted to save children as a doctor, can perhaps save children as the child she will always be; my Jodi, forever young.
In your memory, my dear neice...with so much love,  Your Aunt Patti

3 comments:

Jessica Trepanier said...

I remember a lot about Jodi. She was my next door neighbor in Canaan. A couple of days prior to her leaving us, I remember her making me and Jamie Mac and Cheese. It was like soup because she added too much milk but, she said that's how she liked it and it was pretty good. She used to get so mad at me and Jamie whe we would practice playing our clairanets in the living room. We weren't all that good at it so we didnt always hit the right notes. Jodi used to let me go through her closet and try on everything. She would let me borrow her clothes all of the time. I remember when we first met. My dad had to go over to their house because someone was locked in the vehicle and wouldn't unlock the doors. Jodi taugh e how to do algebra. I used to watch her eeryday do her homework. I looked up to her. She was a great person and a great friend. I think about her daily and all of the great times we had together. She will forever be missed and in my heart. She definately left us far too soon.

**********************Barb said...

{{{{Hugs}}}}

Diana Lynn Martin said...

Wow.... I am so sorry this happened to you & your family, Patti. You write about it so beautifully that it's obvious how much she meant to you. I know it probably wasn't easy, but thank you for sharing her story....

{{{Hugs}}}
Diana :)
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