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Sharing Personal Stories - Meningococcus

The following article tells the story of Adam Bencsik who survived after having meninogococcal meningitis, but whose daily life has since been affected. It is reprinted with permission of the author Amanda Cregan and originally appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times on September 14, 2009.

Back from brink of death, man lives life to fullest

By: AMANDA CREGAN
The Intelligencer

Adam Bencsik doesn't spend any time thinking about what lies ahead of him.

The 29-year-old Quakertown man takes things day by day.

It's a philosophy he's had to live by since that fateful night at the age of 15.

Waking up late at night, Bencsik got out of bed to use the bathroom and suddenly felt strange pain in his legs and found blue welts across his chest.

Hours later, Bencsik was in and out of consciousness as his parents rushed him to Grand View Hospital's Emergency Room, where he was quickly diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

Days turned into weeks as the Pennridge High School 10th-grader fought to hang onto life in a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia hospital bed. The teen was even put into a medically-induced coma.

Bacterial meningitis is a rare, but often deadly disease. Often beginning as a stomach bug or flu, it can go on to kill terrifyingly fast.

It is one of the few infections in the United States where someone can feel fine in the morning and be dead by night.

About 15 percent of people who catch the germ die, and one in five survivors suffers permanent disabilities, including brain damage, deafness or amputated limbs.

The government now recommends high school teens and college freshman be vaccinated against the infection.

"For three weeks, they didn't know if I was going to live or die. It was pretty bad," said Bencsik.

He doesn't remember much about the months that followed, but does recall the doctors scheduling the surgeries to amputate his legs below the knees, explaining the bacteria had already shut down blood vessels to parts of his limbs.

Doctors later removed his fingers, too.

It was then that Bencsik decided that it wouldn't do any good to become angry or depressed.

He knew he needed to take everything in stride.

"I kind of just accepted it for some reason," he said of the amputations.

Nearly 15 years later, it's a day-by-day motto he still follows.

"You have to be able to adapt. Nothing is ever as you plan," said Bensik, who graduated from Pennridge in 1998 and went on to graduate from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where he was named MVP and took home a national championship win with his wheelchair rugby team.

You can even catch Adam playing wheelchair rugby for a brief second in a current Gatorade TV commercial featuring a montage of intense sports competition moments.

Adam Bencsik and his high-school sweetheart, Leigh, are approaching their sixth wedding anniversary.

When he's not working full time as manager of Staples' copy center in Souderton, he's busy keeping up with his 1-year-old daughter, Kinsey.

Adam is not the type of guy that will tell you how hard he's worked or complain about how much he's had to overcome, said Leigh.

"I don't think he pities himself at all," said Leigh.

At first glance, Staples manager Kevin McMenamin wasn't sure how Adam would handle the day-to-day work.

"When Adam showed up in the wheelchair I thought, 'Man, how's this guy going to run the copy center?' " said McMenamin.

Twenty minutes later, he didn't even notice Adam's disability, he said

"Once you get to know him, everyone realizes he's just one of the guys. It's no longer a handicap."

And after three years of working together, McMenamin says he's learned to never doubt Adam's ability.

"He is very independent. He refuses to park anywhere near a handicapped zone, and he takes no advantage of the fact that he has special privileges as a handicapped individual," he said.

"What he has been able to do with it, I imagine is far and above than someone with a similar disability. He's an overachiever."

As for what the next 15 years might bring, Adam's never given it much concern.

"I don't really think real far in the future," said Adam. "In my family, we just assume that we'll be able to overcome the obstacles, and it's worked so far. It's not worth dwelling on the bad stuff."

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