ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. — This week, high school seniors in Orange County are thinking about their upcoming graduation, but a Chapel Hill father wants their parents to think a little further down the road. He wants them to think about children's health at college.
In 2001, the Harrison family lost their 19-year-old daughter, Julia, after she died from
while she was away at college.
"The emergency crew called us and said she seemed pretty good, told us not to worry too much. Within three hours, she was dead," said Paul Harrison, Julia's father.
Now, the Chapel Hill family is giving back in their daughter's memory. They will pay for any Orange County high school senior to get the vaccine before he or she goes off to college. The shot can cost more than $100. Often, it is not covered by insurance.
"All too often, youngsters die unnecessarily from this disease because their parents simply didn't know a vaccine was available," Harrison said.
Because meningitis is spread through direct contact, doctors say college campuses can be a breeding ground for the disease.
"Eating and drinking after each other, kissing -- those sorts of things happen so much in the close living quarters at a college," said Judy Butler, of the Orange County Health Department. "It's a safe vaccine that can protect you against a deadly disease."
"We have kids who would not get it if their insurance didn't cover it if it were not for Dr. Harrison's project," Butler said.
Harrison hopes his project creates awareness that will spare others his family's pain.
"She was idealistic, as young people are," Harrison said. "She was full of life. We miss her every day."
So far, 35 students have taken Harrison up on his offer. He expects more to do so after graduation. More than 1,300 seniors in Orange County are eligible for the program.
Students who want the free vaccine can make an appointment with the Orange County Health Department or the Carrboro Community Health Center. You are asked to take your driver's license and your high school diploma to prove you are a member of the class of 2004. The free vaccine is available through August 15.