New York City. May 12th, 2009. The illustrious Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in the heart of New York City was the perfect location for the first ever “Give Kids a Shot” benefit gala for The National Meningitis Association, (NMA). Lainie Kazan, star of film, TV, and stage set the tone for the evening as she sang hit after hit including; ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, an appropriate choice for the event in many ways. Master of Ceremonies was Richard Thomas, the beloved “John Boy” from The Walton’s.
Receiving the NMA Humanitarian Award were Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor of NBC News and Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Three Nancy Ford Springer Inspiration Award recipients were the heroes of the evening; Melanie Benn, John Kach, and Nick Springer. They are all meningitis survivors who have overcome amazing challenges in their lives.
It was an honor for me to Chair this event with Gary Springer. The more I learned about the effects of this tragic disease the more I wanted to help. Gary and I met a few years ago at The Hampton’s Film Festival. When he told me his son Nick’s story it was shocking. Later, I got to know Nick, Olivia (Nick’s sister) and our beloved Nancy. They were and still are a very strong close knit family with an amazing appreciation for life. When Nick won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for ‘Murderball’ with team USA playing paralympic wheelchair rugby we were elated. Only to have our thrill of victory for Nick saddened at his mother Nancy’s passing as he flew back from Beijing to share his gold medal with her. As a friend and as a human being, I asked myself, what more can this family endure and why. Some questions just as some experiences have no answer. There is no answer why this terrible disease inflicts certain people.
Lynn Bozof, the Executive Director of the National Meningitis Association and one of its original founders lost her son to meningitis. In most cases death occurs in 24 hours of contracting meningococcal meningitis if left untreated. It mimics the flu, except for the symptom of a stiff neck. Hearing the stories of the survivors of this disease as well as the stories of loving parents and family members who lost children or relatives is heart wrenching. Our purpose is to raise awareness that there is a vaccine that can help prevent the spread of this terrible disease.
Nancy Ford Springer was one of the original founders of the NMA having dedicated her life’s efforts to educating the public and raising awareness about meningococcal meningitis after her son Nick’s illness. Gary and Nancy’s daughter Olivia was the presenter of the awards named in her mothers memory and honor. Nancy is greatly missed. Her untimely death is a loss for many. Gary thanked everyone for coming as he held Nancy close to his heart. Nick made reference to the rainbow outside earlier in the evening as a symbol that his mother was watching over the event.
The gala was very emotional. People pulled together with a common goal: to raise awareness and prevent this illness from attacking another person. Families came from many states, some with loved ones who have survived and some in memory of those who they lost. No words can describe the feelings in the Rainbow Room. No words can describe the pain and suffering this vaccine preventable disease has caused.
We are very grateful for all the support we received that helped make our event a success.
To learn more about meningitis please go to http://www.nmaus.org
Story by Sara Herbert-Galloway http://www.herbertcollection.com
Photos by Barbara Kelly and Justin Galloway