MOOERS - At just eight years old, Christina Paola was able to survive a life-threatening illness. However, with meningococcal meningitis, not all who contract it are as lucky.
To help spread the word of the seriousness of meningitis, Paola, now 15, is hosting a Meningitis Awareness 5K Walk/Run next Saturday, Oct. 16.
Although she doesn't remember much about her time being sick, her mother, Laurie Garand, remembers a lot.
"She was sleeping one night and she woke us up and she was really hot, overly hot," Garand explained. "We thought maybe she had got wrapped in her blanket. So, we tried to cool her down, and she wouldn't cool down, so I brought her to the hospital."
Garand said the doctor told her to just give Paola some medication and let her rest. The next day, Paola went to a friend's house while her family went skiing, but soon things got worse.
"I had trouble watching TV as the lights were very bright," explained Paola. "The noise became unbearable. I would cover my head with a blanket; my fever had come back."
Garand contacted the doctor again but was told she was overreacting and to just let Paola rest.
"I was really upset about it so I called my aunt," recalled Garand. "She said just bring her to the hospital again. So, we did. By the time we left our house and got ready and got down there, we couldn't wake her anymore."
After having a spinal tap, it was determined Paola had meningitis. She spent the next two weeks in the hospital and a third week at home resting.
"When she was sick, and we heard meningitis, I thought it was something that happened years ago when we were little," explained Garand. "I didn't know that disease was really still around."
According to the National Meningitis Association, the disease is definitely still around, affecting as many as 3,000 Americans some years. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the serious and sometimes fatal disease can be avoided with a vaccine.
These facts are what Paola is hoping to make people more aware about. The run/walk will not only raise awareness that day, but will hopefully raise enough money so Paola can buy materials and work alongside the health department to bring information to students, including what signs and symptoms of meningitis.
"If they know what some of the signs are, then they can tell their parents how sick they really are," explained Garand.
The awareness will also help youngsters to understand how easily the disease can be spread. Although it is uncertain how Paola contracted the disease, both she and Garand have a few ideas.
"She was in a restaurant that weekend and someone sneezed on her. A waitress had sneezed on her," Garand recalled. "And, she did share a dessert that day with a friend. She was little at the time so they were always sharing drinks at school."
Now, seven years later, with only vague memories of her time in the hospital, Paola is still reminded of the life-threatening illness she faces, every day.
"I have sensitivity to light, noise, headaches and a low immune system," she said.
However, despite these side effects, Paola is still active, participating in various 5-kilometer races, as well as the half-marathon held in Plattsburgh earlier this year. She also plays soccer for Northeastern Clinton Central School.
Now, Paola is looking forward to the Oct. 16 race.
"It's for a good cause and it's going to be a fun day," said Paola.
The race will begin next Saturday at 9 a.m., with registration being held from 7:30 -8:45 a.m. The event will be at the Mooers Recreation Park on Park Lane. The entry fee is $15 and includes a T-shirt. There will also be raffles, music and food.
For more information or to preregister, contact Paola at 236-6827 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The event can also be found on Facebook by searching Meningitis Awareness 5K. For more information about the disease, visit www.nmaus.org.