Fiddling a black bracelet between her fingers, Megan Wiebe’s eyes begin to tear up as she reflects on her brother’s life.
"He was my only brother and my only sibling," Wiebe said. "He was such a nice guy. He was friendly and respectful of everyone. He played sports in high school and everyone loved him."
The flimsy rubber bracelet looks out of place on the otherwise chic 19-year-old, but what the bracelet stands for is close to her heart.
"It says: ‘A Race Against Time,’" Wiebe said fighting through tears. "It’s meningitis’ slogan."
About one year ago, Wiebe’s older brother Matthew passed away after falling ill with the disease that causes the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed.
"It was all so sudden," Wiebe said. "The doctors found out it was meningitis, but because they didn’t detect it early enough he passed away."
Today, less than two weeks after her brother was to celebrate his 23rd birthday, Wiebe has made it her mission to bring awareness about the deadly disease.
Recently, Wiebe, with the help of Matthew’s close friend Amy Plouffe and Ben Cameron, hosted a social in Winnipeg, where the family grew up before moving to Brandon, to try to make sure what happened to her brother doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Friends and family travelled from across Western Canada to be there and Wiebe said it was incredible to see how the community responded to the call for action.
While, to a certain degree, Wiebe expected the support from friends and family due to the type of person her brother was, she also said she was blown away by the number of people and businesses that donated that had never met Matthew.
"We raised just over $15,000 and it’s still coming in," Wiebe said. "All that money will go directly to meningitis research."
Untreated, the disease can be fatal in a few hours, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada, and can be spread through close contact, like a cold or flu.
While some vaccines can protect against the primary causes of meningitis, the foundation says a healthy immune system will protect us from most of the causes. However, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms — including a headache, stiff neck and fever — appear.
Meningitis is often preventable and treatable if the illness is detected early enough, and for Wiebe, if she can spread the message about the disease and just help one person she knows what she is doing is worth it.
"It’s important research and I want to bring awareness about meningitis so this never has to happen again."