As national and international organizations gear up for events highlighting the dangers of bacterial meningitis next week, NY1 health reporter Erin Billups takes a look at one man's struggle and remarkable triumph over the disease.
Nick Springer's arms below his elbows, and legs above his knees, were amputated when he was 14, after contracting a bacterial meningitis infection during a three-day hike at summer camp.
"We were just sharing water bottles back and forth, and I had no idea by doing that, I was actually putting myself in extreme danger," Springer says.
Meningococcal disease is also spread through coughing, sneezing and kissing. Living in tight quarters also increases risk.
Springer was tired from all the camp activity, which compromised his immune system.
Because the onset of the infection acts just like the flu, it's often misdiagnosed until it's too late.
"I was being rushed to the hospital by noon the next day," Springer says. "By two o'clock, I was being induced into a coma, and by six o'clock, 24 hours after this all happened, I was given a 10 percent chance of survival."
With the loving support of his family and community, Springer survived with chutzpah, immediately taking to the ice on a sled, eager to reclaim his love of hockey.
The New York native eventually went on to become an international wheelchair rugby player, winning eight gold medals, including a win at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and a bronze last year in London.
But even with all the success in his athletic life, he says his passion is prevention, urging young people to get vaccinated.
"To have that seat belt is huge, because people are going to do what they're going to do," he says. "You can't stop kids from being kids."
Springer's mother, Nancy, died shortly after his Beijing win. She was also a fierce advocate for prevention. Nick is now a spokesperson for the organization she co-founded, the National Meningitis Association.
"If my story can save a couple lives, which I hope it has, then everything that I went through was not in vain," he says.
The NMA will hold its annual gala at the New York Athletic Club Monday night. For more information, visit www.nmaus.org.