PITTSBURGH — It's a pain no parent should ever feel.
Their daughter died of a rare condition last year and now they are working to make sure other families are saved.
Many colleges already require a meningitis vaccine for incoming freshmen, but now a lesser-known strain is turning up on college campuses, and there is limited protection against it.
Channel 11's Katherine Amenta spoke with a South Hills family that has dealt with the heartbreak firsthand.
When Stephanie Ross, of Upper St. Clair, went off to Drexel University in 2012, she was full of excitement and potential.
"She really found herself when she went to Drexel," said her father, Steve Ross.
The mechanical engineering major was embracing her new life. But in March of 2014, everything changed.
"Monday morning, her alarm was going off and she wasn't turning it off," recalled her mother, Bev Ross.
Stephanie was unconscious, and she was rushed to the hospital. As doctors desperately worked to save her life, her parents and sister tried to get there in time.
"We were on the turnpike on our way to Philly when we got the call; it's not something I would wish on anybody," said Steve Ross.
That quickly, the 19-year-old sophomore was gone. Doctors told Steve and Bev it was the rare bacterial meningitis, strain B.
"Your first thought is, 'How can that possibly be?' She was vaccinated," said Bev Ross.
But she wasn't. Stephanie had received the well-known vaccination for college students, which takes care of meningitis A, C, W and Y.
But an FDA-approved meningitis B vaccine didn't exist until this year.
"Now we finally have a vaccine against serial B," said Dr. Lee Harrison, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Pitt.
This summer, Dr. Harrison and the rest of a CDC panel had to decide how this new vaccine should be used.
The Rosses shared Stephanie's story with the panel in hopes the vaccine would be recommended for all adolescents, but the panel made a more open-ended ruling.
"They didn't say that everybody should get it," explained Dr. Harrison. "Anybody ages of 10 to 25 can go to their physician and say, 'I would like to receive this vaccine.'"
Mr. and Mrs. Ross say it's a step in the right direction, but their fight for more awareness is far from over. It's what keeps them going every day since losing Stephanie.
"(We) find a way to live with the new way of life," said Bev Ross. "It's not ever going to be the same."
The panel said that based on how new the vaccine is, safety concerns and how rare the disease is, they decided to hold off on recommending it for all adolescents, but Dr. Harrison says he expects a lot more discussion and changes in the coming years.
For more information, CLICK HERE to visit the National Meningitis Association's website.
Contributions to Steph’s Scholarship Fund are made out to Drexel University and forwarded to the address below:
Please note that in the memo line, please write: “Stephanie Ross Memorial Scholarship Fund.”
The fund will begin making awards in the spring at the annual Drexel awards ceremony.
© 2020 WPXI