Archive | February, 2019

Ben Diamond: Why Meningitis Advocacy Matters to Me

5 Feb

Interviewed by Mike LaForgia

From left to right; Ben Diamond and Mike LaForgia

For this edition of Parents Who Protect, we’re featuring an interview between Mike LaForgia, meningitis survivor and vaccination advocate, and his friend Ben Diamond. Since surviving the disease more than 15 years ago, Mike has spoken to state legislatures, media organizations and parent groups about the importance of vaccination and meningitis prevention. Mike, a double-amputee, is a long-time runner who has not let meningitis stop him – He is a multi-year finisher of the New York City Marathon and continues to race in his spare time.  

Mike LaForgia: Do you remember how we first got connected? 

Ben Diamond: Oh yes. That was back about eight years ago when my wife Sara and I joined a running group that some friends of ours started in the neighborhood. Lori, one of the women in that group, sat next to you back when you worked at Chase in New York. I remember one day she told us she had recruited a guy from her office who was interested in running with us.

ML: Had you ever encountered meningitis before meeting me?

BD: Unfortunately, I had. There was a string of cases on Long Island in the late 1980s and the sister of one of my good friends from high school ended up passing away from the disease. Separately, about 15 years ago, the mother of another friend contracted bacterial meningitis. Vaccines weren’t as widely available, and most people weren’t aware a vaccine even existed, but I’m so glad that’s changed.

ML: When did you learn about my experience with meningitis? 

BD: Lori had told us a little bit about your battle with meningitis before we first met, and she shared how it had affected you. She told us that you were a double-amputee and that you were still a runner, which so impressed me.

On our first run together, you told me your family didn’t know what it was when you first got symptoms, thought it was the flu, and how you all rushed back from vacation and straight to the hospital. And then of course I heard you tell the story many times after that! It wasn’t long before I learned about all the advocacy work you do – as a National Meningitis Association advocate, speaking to PTA groups and in schools about the importance of vaccination for those at greatest risk, meeting with parents and survivors. For as long as I’ve known you, it’s always been clear that meningitis advocacy is such an important part of your life.

ML: You ran over 1,000 miles in 2018 and ended up raising over $2,000 for the National Meningitis Association. What made you decide to do that? 

BD: I’ve always been a goal-oriented person. I surpassed my goal of running 1,000 miles in 2017, but for 2018 I wanted to build on that. To be honest, I really miss you since you’ve moved from New York to Texas and running to raise money for the group that you’re so passionate about seemed like a cool idea. The part that was most surprising to me – in a good way – was how much support I got. A lot of people get nervous about asking others for money, but I just put it out there on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the number of messages and comments from people who wanted to help. It was also extra motivation for me because I’d look pretty silly if I’d declared this goal so publicly and then didn’t stick to it.

Mike LaForgia

ML: What was it like once you started running this year? 

BD: It was such a motivation to know that each time I ran meant a few more dollars for the NMA. A bunch of my friends and family chose to sponsor around 10 cents per mile, so if I went out and did a four-mile run on a Saturday morning that could be seven or 10 dollars right there. The beauty of this plan was every mile increased the donation to the NMA and led to direct improvement in vaccination awareness.  As you said yourself, every mile meant a greater and greater chance I and all those that supported me saved lives.  I sent out at email at the end of the year with how much I’d run, and people emailed me back a few days later to say they’d made their donation through the NMA website.

ML: Beyond money, what do you hope can come from your NMA running campaign? 

BD: Really, I just want to reach as many audiences as possible and spread awareness about meningitis prevention. Whether that’s people in my community, Facebook friends from school or healthcare providers, I hope that my advocacy can draw attention to meningitis and encourage more people to make sure their loved ones are protected against this devastating disease. I see everything that you’ve gone through – You have such a positive attitude, but no one should have to overcome the challenges that you and your family have.

Mike and Ben at the finish line at the New York City Marathon, 2013

ML: Have your kids received all of their vaccinations?

BD: My wife and I are vigilant about making sure our kids get all of their vaccinations. The older ones are in their 20s and have already received their meningitis vaccines, but the youngest is 15 so he’s gotten the first dose of the MenACWY vaccine and will be getting the second dose – as well as both doses of the MenB vaccine – once he turns 16.

ML: Think you’ll ever come down for a run in Texas? 

BD: Oh yeah, we have to get that set up! We’ve done literally hundreds of runs together and I continue to be so inspired by you each time we’re out there. I’ll never forget running the New York City Marathon with you in 2013.  You inspired the crowd for the entire 26.2 miles and I was so proud to run next you.  I get that same feeling every time we run together.

Click here to learn more about Mike’s story and click here to make a donation to NMA