Kansas Reporter Loses Fingers and Toes to Deadly Meningitis

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2014-02_459adb39a1.jpgCourtesy Jamie McIntyre (NEW YORK) -- One evening in his University of Kansas dorm room, Andy Marso was experiencing flu-like symptoms and hundreds of purple blotches on his arms and legs. A day later, he was unconscious and being helicoptered to a hospital intensive care unit. It was April of 2004 and Marso had bacterial meningitis, the fiercest form of the disease, which ravaged his body with sepsis and eventually led to the amputation of most of his fingers and the front half of both his feet.

He spent three weeks in a drug-induced coma, four months in the hospital, nine months in rehab and a year in a wheelchair, enduring painful burn treatments to try to save his limbs and skin grafts.

But today, at 32, he is a State House reporter with the Topeka Capital Journal, able to type 40 to 50 words a minute with his one remaining thumb and a nub on his other hand, and is meeting all the challenges that life has thrown at him.

"I can do 99 percent of what I used to do -- but it's completely different now," he told ABC News. "I use two hands to grip bigger things, and I usually make it work. I don't remember what it is like to have 10 fingers, but it doesn't bother me. This is my new normal."

Marso writes about his battle with the disease, in his new book, Worth the Pain, How Meningitis Nearly Killed Me -- Then Changed My Life for the Better.

The book, he said, had been "a dream my whole life and another reward this whole experience gave me."

Marso also wants to create awareness about available childhood vaccines that can prevent the disease in the first place.

Meningitis is an inflammatory condition of the meninges or membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can come on abruptly with headache, fever, a stiff neck and nausea, among other symptoms, and lead to death if treatment does not begin within 24 to 72 hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis annually, causing about 500 deaths.

Although most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities.

Infants are at the higher risk for the disease than other age groups, according to the CDC, but college students living in dormitories and those who live in close quarters in the military are particularly vulnerable.

"There is a really high mortality rate," said Dr. Pritish K. Tosh, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic. "Before the antibiotic era, in the 1900s, it was basically universally fatal."

Today, a series of vaccines are effective in preventing the disease among children and protecting adults from exposure.

"The hallmark of the infection is it moves very fast and aggressively," said Tosh, who did not treat Marso. "People feel fairly well, and then in a matter of a few hours, they could be starting to show signs of devastating illness."

Marso developed disseminated intravascular coagulation or DIC, the response to an "overwhelming" infection, according to Tosh.

"The body shuts down its organs in response overwhelming infection," he said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio