WASHINGTON — 18-year-old D.C. native Marakah Dennis was found dead in her Louisiana State University dorm room in September, with the cause of death unknown. Now, the coroner has released that she died of acute viral meningitis, which is typically a less deadly strain.
Her mother, Lashawn Dennis, said her daughter had received the vaccination against bacterial meningitis in July, a month before she left for college.
"I thought she was protected," Lashawn said.
According to the East Baton Rouge Coroner, Dr. William Clark, and the CDC, there is no vaccination against viral meningitis. That develops from other common viruses like the flu and typically goes away on its own, Clark said.
"Who knew that the vaccination didn't cover both bacterial and viral?" Lashawn said. "We didn't."
The coroner is still investigating which origin virus Marakah contracted, but he said the likelihood of discovering a final answer is low unless it was one of the more common viruses.
Lashawn said in her last conversation with her daughter, Marakah had complained of an upset stomach and a headache.
"It just did not seem that it was on the level where we thought it was an emergency," she said. "I had told her to take Ibuprofen, drink plenty of fluids, and go see the nurse, and she laughed."
Lashawn said Marakah had set up an appointment with the nurse for the next day.
That same day, Sept. 17, a detective called Lashawn to tell her Marakah was dead.
"I'll always remember that call," Marakah's dad Mitchel Dennis said. "Heartbreaking, unbelievable, just not real."
When Mitchel and Lashawn think of their daughter, though, they said they will remember her infectious smile and passion for helping others.
"She really didn't have any regrets," Lashawn said. "She went to the college she wanted to go to, she got her license, she got a car. She didn't live her life at all thinking 'why shouldn't I?'"
Marakah's mom said she lived a full life
As Marakah's family grapples with their grief and shock, they have started a non-profit in her memory, called the Pink Rocki Advocacy Foundation. Pink, because that was Marakah's favorite color. And, Rocki, because that was her nickname.
Their goal is to educate young people about self-care during any major transition, like heading to college, the military or their first time away from home.
"Be your own advocate," Lashawn said. "Take care of yourself. Don't ignore signs of illnesses. Don't shrug them off thinking I have tomorrow to do it."
The goal is to prevent the world from losing another shining star, like Marakah.
The foundation is hosting its first event on Dec. 28. It's a Sip and Paint at the VFW Free State Post 8950, designed to bring people of all ages together. The money raised will go toward funding high school programs and eventually scholarships.