Teen lost to meningococcus was a healthy, athletic and happy girl

0
429
WEBJewel.jpg

Tuesday was like any other day for Jewelean Pimentel and her friends at school. She had a headache, but thought she had just bumped her head cheering. That was her last day of attendance. She passed away two days later on Feb. 13 from meningococcus only 14-years-old.

Tuesday was like any other day for Jewelean Pimentel and her friends at school. She had a headache, but thought she had just bumped her head cheering. That was her last day of attendance. She passed away two days later on Feb. 13 from meningococcus only 14-years-old.

Meningococcal disease is swift and deadly, killing 10-15 percent of 800-1,200 people each year afflicted. Its symptoms mask the flu and other viral infections, according to the NMA (National Meningitis Association). Twenty percent of those who come down with the disease are between the ages of 14 and 24. Of those who survive, 20 percent have severe and permanent physical damage.

Pimentel was vaccinated with MCV4, which protects against four of five strains of meningococcal disease. Three in 10 teens have had no vaccinations against the disease.

There is no definitive answer as to why Pimentel succumbed to meningococcus. There may never be. Since her passing, family and friends have been struggling if not to make sense, then to cope and offer each other support.

At a candlelight vigil held on Feb. 24 at Patrick Henry High School, her father Joey described checking in with his daughter after school, asking how her day went, not knowing it would be one of their last conversations. Green ribbons were handed out by Pimentel’s little brother, and the family gathered tightly to address the crowd of fellow students, Pimentel’s teammates from Cheerforce El Cajon, her friends, and people from the community. Coley Adams, described her as a “happy, thoughtful and positive” person.

Patrick Henry High principal Listy Gillingham said she was open to “whatever would help to heal” the school and community. Moments of silence were held at a pep rally, students wore green and purple in her honor, and the vigil was a solemn, last observance. A webpage created to help the Pimentel family has raised nearly $26,000. People signed up online to take dinner to the family into April.

“None of us know how long we are going to be here, we hope it’s longer than 14 years,” Gillingham said, while Pimentel’s fellow band members played in her honor and friends performed a song written for her. Her father told the crowd gathered to honor his daughter that the best way to keep her memory alive was a kind, pay-it-forward approach to life, like she had.

“We had friends in our group who were there because Jewel went up to new people and asked them to be friends,” recalled Adams, who was friends with Pimentel for seven years, meeting through Pop Warner cheerleading. “The other day, we were talking and someone said, ‘Oh, just ask Jewel’, and we cried.”

Still in what Adams described as “shock and grief,” Pimentel’s friends plan to talk to the yearbook staff about a place for Pimentel, who played the flute and piano, was a senior level Girl Scout, who wanted to coach a large cheer team of her own, whose empty chair at school was covered with post-it note messages from somber students who were in disbelief.

As well as bringing in the crisis response team, school officials communicated the importance of student’s age 11 and over receiving the MCV4 vaccine.

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides, and is transmitted through direct exposure to the saliva of someone who is infected. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, fatigue, nausea, sensitivity to light, irritability and confusion and a rash that does not disappear under pressure of touch.

It does not discriminate.

“Jewel was very athletic, she could run a five-minute mile,” Adams said. Pimentel’s birthday is in March, and her friends plan on celebrating it.

“The day she died, I was going to ask her what she wanted for her birthday.”

The GoFundMe page established to help the Pimentel family is at www.gofundme.com/6wjtqc. 

To learn more about the disease, log on to the National Meningitis Association, www.nmaus.org.