Michigan Mom Takes People to Canada to Get Meningitis Vaccine

Michigan Mom Takes People to Canada to Get Meningitis Vaccine
Emily Stillman (center) with her parents Alicia and Michael Stillman in 2011
Courtesy Alicia Stillman

05/18/2014 AT 02:00 PM EDT

On Jan. 31, 2013, Emily Stillman called her mother about a headache. Less than 36 hours later, the 19-year-old college sophomore was unconscious in a Michigan hospital.

"I told her, 'It's okay. You can go,' " Alicia Stillman tells PEOPLE, her voice cracking as she recalls sitting next to her daughter's hospital bed. "I'll be strong. I promise you, I will be your voice. This will not happen to other people."

Emily died from meningitis B, a bacterial disease that can be prevented with a vaccine but is not available in the United States. Recent outbreaks at Princeton University and the University of California in Santa Barbara have forced health officials to take emergency action and administer the vaccine, which is currently available in Canada.

While the FDA works on the process of approving the vaccine, Alicia Stillman says she does not have time to wait.

Through the Emily Stillman Foundation, Alicia invited 50 people to join her and her family to get vaccinated on Sunday in Windsor, Ontario – about an hour from Michigan. The group is mostly college-age students, including her 18-year-old son, who is headed to college in the fall, and ranges from 7 to 76 years old.

"I decided I needed to fast-track this myself," says Alicia, 50. "If I'm going to do this to protect my own son, then I figured I would do this to protect everybody. No family should live like I have lived these last 67 weeks."

Stillman's two children, her husband and her parents will be getting vaccinated. She plans on holding a poster of her daughter, who was a theater major at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and had dreams of one day appearing on Saturday Night Live.

"I couldn't help my own daughter and so now I'm going to help everybody else's," she says. "It's going to be emotional."

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