Carl Buher.jpg
The anti-vaccine movement has long accused health officials of mounting an all-encompassing propaganda campaign to push parents into immunizing their children. In truth, the public-health

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Carl Buher, La Conner Survivor of Meningitis, is Vaccine Advocates' Best Spokesperson Ever

Carl Buher.jpg
The anti-vaccine movement has long accused health officials of mounting an all-encompassing propaganda campaign to push parents into immunizing their children. In truth, the public-health world hasn't been good enough at propaganda. Officials may have the science on their side, but they often come across as patronizing and dismissive of anyone who fails to toe the line. That's why Carl Buher should be their not-so-secret weapon.

Buher spoke last night in Shoreline at a meeting organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The subject was whether the CDC should include a vaccine for meningitis on its list of recommended immunizations for infants. Only four meetings are being held across the country, and the CDC's decision to hold one here likely stems from the plethora of anti-vaccine activists we have in our midst, as we chronicled in a cover story last month.

The 22-year-old Buher, a resident of La Conner, had meningitis himself. As he relates in the video below, he was a 14-year-old athlete when one night he felt sick and started throwing up. "I just thought it was the flu," he says. Yet the next day, when his sister came home from school, she noticed purple splotches all over him. By the time his parents arrived to take him to the hospital, he couldn't feel his legs. His heart stopped twice as he was airlifted to Seattle Children's. He subsequently had to have both of his legs amputated at the knee, as well as three of his fingers.

So Buher knows of what he speaks when he says "People don't realize this [disease] is so quick-acting." And no one could doubt his sincerity at wishing he had known of a vaccine that could have prevented his illness.

He also offers the kind of inspirational story that moves people to tears. Buher, who walks with the help of prostheses, went on to graduate from Gonzaga University with a degree in civil engineering. He's now looking for work.

Speaking with SW this morning, he says he's struggled with his relationship to vaccine advocacy. "When I was younger, I wanted to distance myself from that," he says. He was sick of talking about meningitis, and he didn't want the disease to define him. "As I've matured, I've realized I'm in a unique position to get the word out." His mother Lori, a school counselor, is on the board of the National Meningitis Association.

Yet, neither Carl nor his mom evince the judgmentalism that so pisses off parents on the other side. As a school counselor, Lori says she knows that all parents are trying to do the best for their kids. Her son says he considers immunization is a "personal choice," especially for a vaccine that hasn't even been recommended yet. "The only thing I can do is educate people about my story," he concludes.

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