A mother’s loss spurs meningitis research

A mother’s loss spurs meningitis research

Sarah Simms
Contributing Writer

Cindy Payne, a Charlottesville native and business student at Columbia Southern University, has lived a pretty normal life. She is married, works as the regional office manager at the Charlottesville League of Therapists, and at the age of 48, enjoys running in her spare time.

But, there is one thing that sets Cindy apart from most: She lost her only child four years ago to meningitis.

Cindy’s daughter, Jennifer Leigh Wells, was a senior studying psychology at the University of Virginia at the time of her death.

One week after Jennifer’s 21st birthday, she complained of a headache and other flu-like symptoms and decided to stay home to rest. After returning from work that afternoon, Cindy discovered Jennifer unconscious in her bedroom and rushed her to the hospital.

Doctors soon determined that Jennifer had B-strain bacterial meningitis, the only one of four strains not covered in by the meningitis vaccination. She died 48 hours after being diagnosed.

The National Association of School Nurses’ website on meningitis states that teens and young adults have a higher chance of contracting and dying from the bacterial infection. According to the association’s statistics, death rates for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 are five times higher than other age groups.

“At the time of her death, we didn’t know a lot about meningitis,” Payne said. “But we’ve learned a lot now. Since there is not a vaccination for it, we decided to try to help raise money to go towards meningitis research in hopes that one day there will be a vaccine for B-strain meningitis.”

Following Jennifer’s death, Payne and her four sisters got together and decided to create an event to celebrate Jennifer’s life while raising meningitis awareness. They came up with the Jennifer Leigh Wells Moonlight Walk/Run for Meningitis Research.

The two mile walk/run began in 2007, and is now held every year at Monticello High School track, where Jennifer attended school. All of the proceeds go to the Children’s Hospital and Research Institute in Oakland, Calif., where Dr. Greg Moe is leading an innovative research team in developing a B-strain meningitis vaccination.

Payne now devotes her time planning events to raise money to help discover a vaccination for B-strain meningitis.

“Cindy is passionate about finding a vaccine,” said Joshua Richardson, Cindy’s nephew. “Planning events and fundraisers has become a yearlong thing for her. When she isn’t planning the walk/run, she is setting up other fundraisers in Jennifer’s name to go towards meningitis research. She’s truly driven.”

In addition to the walk/run, Cindy holds a pancake breakfast at Applebee’s and a yard sale every year in Jennifer’s name. All proceeds made at these events go to meningitis research as well.

“By doing the walk every year, I feel like I’m still doing something for Jennifer,” Payne said.  “When she was here, that’s what I wanted to do … the most that I could for her.”

For more information on meningitis and the Jennifer Leigh Wells Moonlight Walk/Run, visit www.moonlight4meningitis.com.


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