Tess Louise Whitson was the second daughter of Paul and Krista Whitson, and cousin of athletic director Ryan Hite. Before Tess, Paul and Krista had a little girl named Katie who passed away from heart complications at three years old. Tess was a normal five-year-old little girl and lived a happy small-town life in Findlay.
“Tess was just a beautiful, beautiful young girl. She loved going to school. She was always so happy,” expressed Ryan.
Tess was a healthy child, so when she woke up on March 8, 1999 complaining of flu-like symptoms, her parents took her to the doctor. The doctor assumed Tess had simply come down with the common flu, and sent her on her way. Hours later, upon finding a violent rash, Tess was airlifted to Toledo hospital. Tess passed away from a form of bacterial meningitis merely 36 hours after her symptoms arose.
Bacterial meningitis is usually severe. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and confusion. Despite the severity, these symptoms are often confused with symptoms of the flu, as in Tess’s case. Most people can recover from the disease, but it can also cause serious complications. Infants are at the highest risk of contracting the disease, but people of any age are at risk.
“You’re in your protective ‘bubble,’ but once you get out of it, other ‘bubbles’ come into your space. People can be a carrier of the disease, and won’t be affected by it, which means you can spread it, but still not get it,” said Paul, father of Tess. The disease tends to spread quickly in large group settings. This is why seniors in high school are pressured to get vaccinations for the disease before leaving for college.
On Feb. 19 of this year, senator Cliff Hite, uncle to Tess, proposed a bill that would make March 9 of every year in Ohio “Meningitis Awareness Day.” The bill was proposed as “Tess’s Law,” in honor of Tess Whitson’s life, and will be in place to raise awareness of the disease that tragically took the young girl’s life. The Whiston family is working closely with the Meningitis Association to begin the process of planning events to raise awareness for the disease on that day.
“[The bill] is to make a lousy day in our family to have a little more purpose,” said Paul. “When we lost our first daughter Katie from heart complications, we were almost expecting it. We just felt robbed when we lost Tess because it happened so fast.”
He went on to say that if his family can shed a little light on the vaccination process so that no one has to feel the pain that his family has, the effort will all be worth it.
This article was written in loving memory of Tess Louise Whitson.