In 2010, the year we graduated together, Leo Chan was voted by his high school class as most likely to take over the world. He was going to be the first Canadian prime minister of Asian descent and spread his compassion across the country. With all of the capability and dedication to do so, everyone knew he could become as successful as he hoped to be.
In January 2012, Leo died of meningitis.
I met Leo when he was a skinny 12-year-old boy in math class. We’d compete over sums and graphs, seeing who could get the highest mark. As we grew up, I saw Leo in a variety of capacities: as a musician for our school musical, a speaker, a classmate and, most importantly, a friend. He was a rock for me when I was having problems with friends and was a source of laughter when we would joke around at lunchtime. As someone who has had serious health problems in the past year, Leo inspires me every day to keep getting better and keep fighting.
Even in death, Leo is still trying to take over the world; at least, his legacy is. Currently, his mother and father — Mabel and CK Chan of Coquitlam, B.C. — are campaigning to institute mandatory vaccinations for all strands of meningitis (called an MCV4 vaccine) in B.C. The vaccination is currently mandatory in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories, leaving B.C. as one of the only provinces that doesn’t offer the vaccine for free.
Before he passed away, Leo came down with flu-like symptoms and a stiff neck, classic signs of meningitis, but he was told it was merely the flu. Leo is not the first with meningitis to be misdiagnosed.
“Meningitis is difficult to diagnose,” says Kate MacGillivray, an intensive-care nurse at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. “Often, it’s seen as the flu, and it’s extremely contagious.” Meningitis is particularly common among young people who frequently share drinks, one of the main ways the disease is passed from person to person. Meningitis is passed through saliva contact, sexual contact or contact with infected blood, but nobody makes kissing disease jokes about it; it’s too serious. Before Leo passed away, his condition was so serious that the doctors anticipated he would lose his legs, arms and eyes.
If we are able to institute the vaccine for free in B.C., we can prevent deaths like Leo’s. Currently, the government claims the vaccine is too expensive, but as Mabel Chan says, “How can you put a price on Leo?”
Leo is not the only future world leader to die of meningitis; it’s made victims of other Canadian teens, like athlete Brodie Campbell from Coquitlam. They could have been famous soccer players, UN officials, neurosurgeons or the next prime minister — like Leo — but they were never given the chance because their lives were cut short by a preventable disease.
Take a moment on Jan. 18 to remember Leo, and protect yourself — get the vaccine. It is available at the UVic health clinic for $120.
Leo’s parents will be in Victoria on Jan. 18 to pray and remember their son with his classmates, professors and friends at the Interfaith Chapel at 4 p.m., and would appreciate anyone who would join them in mourning their son.
Here’s to the young man who could have taken over the world.