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MALAD, Idaho — It's a parent's nightmare, a sickness that isn't just the cold or flu, but something far worse. Cole Williams spent an agonizing week in the hospital with terrible pain.
It felt like someone dumping a giant bucket of bouncy balls on you," said Cole, age 12, who lives in Malad, Idaho. "It just hurts really bad."
At first he felt like he had the flu, and a bad headache that got worse by day three.
"The headache that he constantly complained of; that was a red flag," said Brook Williams, Cole's mom. "Just a really, really terrible headache."
Then came the stiff neck. "His ride in the truck was really painful," she said. "That was another red flag. Just going over bumps in the road really caused him a lot of discomfort."
Cole had meningitis pasteurella, a rare strain of bacteria growing in his spinal fluid and blood stream. Also called pasteurella multocida meningitis, it's so rare doctors who treated him in Logan had to look it up.
They began intravenous penicillin and his mom tried not to panic. She asked if Cole's dad, away with the Idaho National Guard, should come home. "He said, 'If it were my son, I would like to be close by,'" Brook said. "I definitely got the sense that you're not just going to the hospital to be treated with some fluids. I definitely got the sense it was a big deal."
Doctors recommend all kids 11 and older get the meningitis vaccine, and a booster at age 16. But there's no vaccine for meningitis pasteurella, and doctors have no idea how he got it.
I have never seen this strain of meningitis. They can't flex their neck. They have a headache and fever and they look pretty sick. They're miserable kids.
–Dr. Craig Armstrong, pediatrician
"I have never seen this strain of meningitis," said Dr. Craig Armstrong, a pediatrician with Primary Care Pediatrics in Logan. "They can't flex their neck. They have a headache and fever and they look pretty sick. They're miserable kids."
Vomiting or nausea with the headache, confusion or difficulty concentrating, seizures and sleepiness or difficulty waking up are also symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Cole endured a spinal tap, a PIC line, X-rays and pain. But it wasn't all bad. Once his head was better, when asked what he'd remember most, his answer came from the heart. "Being with my mom and dad," Cole said. "We have four others kids. They get most of the attention."
Though traumatic, Brook also savored the one-on-one time with Cole, and the life lessons. "You just go about your life and then all of the sudden everything stops. Everything that is not significant, which is everything outside of your family," she said. "It's just a wake-up call of what really is important."
Cole made a full recovery with no complications. Doctors credit the IV penicillin and his mom getting him to the hospital in time with saving his life.