30 May 2011

Source: The Eagle

Greg Williams remembers his son, Nicolis (Nico for short) always telling him that he was going to be famous one day.

It finally happened, but not the way anyone ever could have imagined, or ever would have wanted.

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday evening signed the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act into law, which requires all incoming college freshmen to be vaccinated for bacterial meningitis.

Soon after, Greg Williams – whose son died of the disease – got the call from the mother of Jamie, a University of Texas student who survived the illness after contracting it in 2008, but it left her without her legs and most of her fingers.

Schanbaum's mother told him the bill had been signed.

“I was extremely excited. My heart almost jumped out of my chest,” Greg Williams said in a telephone interview from Sugar Land on Sunday. “It's a victory for Texas and all future college students because it's going to happen again at some point. We just hope this law will prevent that.”

The law contains an ‘opt-out’ clause for students, but there will be substantial information about the risks presented before a student can decline the vaccination.

“It's like playing Russian roulette with your life,” Greg Williams said. “Yes it's rare, but it can happen to anyone at anytime.”

His son was a junior at Texas A&M when he became ill in early February with what most thought was the flu. He visited A.P. Beutal Health Clinic on campus and showed no signs of anything life-threatening.

Nicolis Williams had developed an aggressive form of bacterial meningitis, and within four hours of leaving the clinic to go home, he lost consciousness. Three days later he was dead.

When he was taken off life support, the 20-year-old was surrounded by his family, all of whom kept questioning how a disease could take the life of a thriving young person so quickly.

“No parent should have to bury their child, and this law will help ensure that tragedy will never happen,” Greg Williams said. “I only wish it would have been enacted when Nico registered for school.”

Greg Williams was driving back to Houston to make funeral arrangements when he raised the issue with State Rep. Charlie Howard in a phone call asking why there wasn't a law requiring the meningitis vaccination.

Howard, a Republican from Sugar Land, told Greg Williams such a law did exist, but only applied to students who live on campus in dorms. Nicolis Williams lived in an off-campus dormitory. For the next three months, Greg Williams dedicated several hours each day working to get legislation rolling to protect students from the disease.

“My father taught me years ago to give 100% in everything I do,” Greg Williams said. “I'm doing this so urgently because I don't want another parent to say to themselves: I didn't know about meningitis.”

Bacterial meningitis is a disease that causes an inflammation and swelling of the membranes in the brain and upper spinal column, which, in turn, can lead to severe side effects or death. It's contagious, but requires relatively close contact, such as drinking after someone with it, as well as kissing or breathing in a cough of someone who has the disease.

“It's nothing to play around with,” Greg Williams said. “It can kill or mutilate your body within a few hours, so why take the chance because most doctors will treat you for the flu.”

Greg Williams said his work is not finished. His focus now will be on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“I'm not done yet,” Greg Williams said. “The hard part is done now. Getting the law passed was number one, number two for me was help the universities implement the law and number three, that they enforce it.”