ADA, Okla. — An Oklahoma family is mourning the loss of Whitney Howard, a 29-year-old mother who died after a rare case of viral meningitis.
She died on January. 3, the day before her son Jackson's third birthday.
"I had to think to myself about how to word craft it in my mind," said Taylor Howard, Mrs. Howard's husband. "How do I tell Jackson that mommy is never coming home?"
The Howard family had just celebrated a big Christmas season.
"Hey mom, lets make some cookies," said Carol Bynum, Mrs. Howard's mother. "I thought I was going to come over and start making mixes and have to do all of this planning and baking, but I get to her house, and Whitney has everything all done and just ready to decorate for me and the kids. She was just so thoughtful like that. That was the last big thing we got to do together."
Mrs. Howard started complaining about a headache on Dec. 26. She and her husband just thought it was a migraine when it didn't go away.
"She is such a trooper because she even went to work Friday at the bank because she knew they needed her," said Mr. Howard.
She didn't get any relief from what she thought was just a migraine after receiving two rounds of medication from the hospital.
"They hospitalized her, and then by Wednesday, they told us we were going to go home on Thursday by 5 pm but that all changed," said Howard.
Mrs. Howard was one of the four confirmed cases of viral meningitis in Pontotoc County since mid-November. Now state health officials are closely watching the area.
"Viral meningitis is not "reportable," but we are monitoring the local situation, and we are staying in constant contact with the medical community," said Mendy Spawn, the regional director for region eight for the Oklahoma Public Health Department.
Spawn says these cases are not common but the viruses that could cause extreme cases like Mrs. Howard's are.
"Meningitis is the swelling of the covering of the brain or the spinal cord. It's a rare complication for these viruses to result in severe hospitalization," said Spawn. "Viral meningitis is the most common form of meningitis, and its generally caused by things like enteroviruses which are common viruses that circulate around the community this time of year."
Sprawl says washing your hands after leaving public places and wiping of community surfaces in your home is the primary way to protect against potentially harmful viruses.
"It seems simple, but it is the most important thing that we can do so that we protect ourselves and our families," said Spawl.
The Howard's met at East Central University.
"It was Algebra class, she didn't like me at first," said Mr. Howard. "But she got to know me after we started studying together. I suggested it after I saw the flashcards she made for midterms."
To honor Mrs. Howard, the family is starting a scholarship in her name.
"The person who gets the scholarship will carry on Whitney's legacy because a teacher will pick someone who has qualities like her, and she was selfless and hardworking," said Mr. Howard. "It will be a great way to keep her memory alive and celebrate her every year.
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