From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 46 - February 13, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

McKenzie Meningitis Foundation goal:
vaccinating every graduating senior in Wyoming
by Rhonda Swain

Out of tragedy, sometimes good can come. This seems true more so in this day and age than ever. Take the Amber Alert, which resulted from an abduction - it even happens in small communities like Sublette County.

The McKenzie Meningitis Foundation, a new organization founded to promote awareness of the dangers of meningococcal meningitis and to help high-school seniors to be vaccinated against the disease, is preparing to begin a major spring project. According to a press release from the non-profit 501C3 foundation, the project was set up to honor Sublette County's McKenzie Hartwig.

In August 2001, McKenzie left home for the University of South Dakota, looking forward to all the challenges that college would bring. Just 18 years old, she anticipated an exciting life ahead: attending parties and making new friends, playing on the USD volleyball team and pursuing an international-business degree that, she hoped, would eventually take her abroad to live.

"That day, when we hugged and kissed her good bye, I never, ever thought it would be the last time we would see her alive," McKenzie's mom, Laurie, said. "There are always those nagging little thoughts in the back of every parent's mind: 'Wear your seatbelt, don't drink and drive, be careful of drugs.' We had always talked about those kinds of dangers to both of our kids."

One thing the Hartwigs didn't consider was meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection that causes severe swelling of the brain and spinal-cord covering and can result in death or long-term disabilities such as brain damage, sight and hearing loss and limb amputations. In past decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it has spread among adolescents and young adults until it now affects more than 3,000 in the U.S. each year. Particularly at risk are college students living in dorms and military recruits who live in close quarters. Crowded living conditions, irregular eating and sleeping habits and compromised immune systems contribute to the susceptibility of those groups.

A majority of these cases could be avoided with a simple vaccination. Although most military recruits, including those entering military academies, are routinely vaccinated, college campus freshmen often don't know of the risk. CDC recommends that colleges inform incoming freshmen about the disease and the availability of a safe vaccine. The American College Health Association also recommends that college health services take a more proactive role in educating parents and students about the dangers.

A year after McKenzie's death, Ken and Laurie Hartwig started the McKenzie Meningitis Foundation to aid in that effort.

"We wanted to do something," Ken said. "We wanted to turn McKenzie's tragic death into something positive and meaningful, and we felt this is a major step forward."

The foundation's mission is to pursue charitable, medical, educational and scientific projects in honor of McKenzie Carter Hartwig. In addition to educational efforts across the state, this spring they plan to make the vaccine available, through the Sublette County Public Health offices at no cost, to all high-school seniors in Sublette County who wish to receive it.

Laurie said they have enough money available now to vaccinate those Sublette County students, and hope to have an endowment large enough to eventually vaccinate every graduating senior in the state of Wyoming. Long-term, they hope someday that other states will use their project as a model, and vaccinate their college-bound seniors as well.

She said their goals, especially on the county level and with approximately 6,000 graduates in the state, are "overwhelming but feasible ... real and attainable."

Their fundraising efforts include corporate and private donations, with all monies to go into a tax-deductible endowment fund. The foundation is producing brochures that should be ready in the near future, which they will send to every high school in Wyoming along with a PBS video to educate them about the risks of meningococcal meningitis. A website is in the works as well, at or, which they hope to have up and running by mid-April. It will have links to other national websites.

To attain its goals, the foundation, led by board President John Mortenson, also consists of Ken Konicek, Robin McMurry, Chris Meiring and Karen Moulton

Mortenson said he has been "on a number of boards in our community and at the state level, but am more honored to be involved with this board than any other. Ken and Laurie are definitely the driving force behind the foundation, and I think all of us share their desire to turn McKenzie's tragedy into something that will benefit other young people.

"The donations and verbal support we have already received from people in the community have been phenomenal. As soon as we set up, we were able to raise enough money to provide the funds to vaccinate all Sublette County's seniors who wish to participate. Of course, we have a long way to go in order to fulfill our long-range goal of helping vaccinate every senior in the state of Wyoming against meningitis, but we've been heartened by the support so far," Mortenson added.

For a worthwhile cause, and to help vaccinate Wyoming's high-school graduates, send your tax-deductible contribution to McKenzie Meningitis Foundation , P.O. Box 574, Pinedale, Wyo., 82941.

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