At our senior boys’ school, one of the four houses is known as Kelly House, named after Edward Kelly, who died aged 14 on 13th February 1996 of Meningitis. Edward’s health had been compromised at a much younger age by a digestive disorder, but he had learned to live through that into a robust and healthy adolescence. He had gone to watch his beloved Wycombe Wanderers play earlier that evening, had felt ill and quickly succumbed to Meningitis, dying later the same night. Edward’s family and friends grieved for his loss, but with great dignity, and shortly thereafter the country led a massive campaign to vaccinate against this disease.
Today I received an email from my good friend Joanne Harris, Headmistress of Hemdean House School, asking for support to raise awareness for World Meningitis day. She attached a compelling letter from Alison Coneybeare, one of her governors, and I share its contents with you for that obvious reason of raising your awareness of this killer in our midst. You can download a colour chart showing much on the identification of the illness here – http://goo.gl/PoYS3
On Tuesday 24 April 2012, the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) and its global members are encouraging individuals, families and communities to learn the signs and symptoms of meningitis, the importance of urgent treatment of the disease, and that prevention is available through vaccination against some forms of meningitis – as part of its fourth annual World Meningitis Day. Meningitis UK is the UK affiliate of the organisation.
To mark the day your school has kindly agreed to distribute this letter.
Our family has had first-hand experience of this devastating disease and by sharing the story of our daughter’s illness we hope to encourage you all to take 5 minutes today to learn the symptoms of meningitis: it could save the life of someone you love.
Our 8 month old daughter, Eleanor, contracted meningicoccal septicemia in April last year. She had been unwell for a couple of days with cold-like symptoms – high peaking temperatures that paracetamol did not bring down, vomiting, being off her milk and food. I took her to the GPs’ surgery but unfortunately we could not see our usual doctor. The doctor we saw diagnosed a viral throat infection. I questioned him about the vomiting but he said it was just due to the temperatures.
I was due to take Eleanor and her brothers to see her grandparents and following the doctor’s diagnosis we decided to go. That night she vomited again but the next morning she seemed to be a little better and had a milk feed. During the day she even had a little solid food.
Then at about 8.00pm her breathing suddenly became laboured and rasping, her skin looked very pale and her eyes were just staring into the distance. We called the on-call doctor and he told us to call the ambulance straight away. As soon as they arrived they said she needed to go straight into hospital. That journey to the hospital seemed to go on forever. On arrival Eleanor was immediately treated in A&E. Looking back they started to prepare us for the worst even then. They told me that Eleanor had been overwhelmed by a bacterial infection. They said that I should get her Dad there as soon as possible.
She had been in A&E for about five hours and was being transferred to Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital when the rash that many people associate with meningitis first started to appear. We have no doubt that if we had waited for the rash to appear before calling the ambulance she would not be alive now.
Eleanor spent the next week in the Children’s Intensive Care Unit at Alder Hey. She needed a huge amount of medical support just to stay alive. It was the longest week of our lives. She pulled through, but had to spend a further 6 weeks in hospital. She has been left permanently disabled following the amputation of her right leg at the knee and varying amounts of her fingers on her left hand. Just when we thought that we had got through everything we found out that she also has severe/profound hearing loss in one of her ears. The appointments seem endless – paediatrics, plastics, orthopaedics, physio, audiology, prosthetics.
What you should do
We are lucky that Eleanor is happy, beautiful and alive. Every year meningitis kills 300 people. While the disease can affect people of all ages, infants, children and adolescents are at an increased risk of infection. Please take the time to learn the symptoms and trust your instincts. I wish that I had pushed harder at that first doctor’s appointment.
A Meningitis UK-commissioned survey revealed that the UK public trusts GPs far more than other professions such as bankers, politicians, and journalists.
It showed 43 per cent of people trust GPs implicitly compared to just three per cent for bankers and one per cent for politicians, estate agents and journalists. However, findings also show that only 25 per cent of people will trust their instincts and take further action if they are still worried after receiving advice from a doctor. Meningitis UK wants people to have the confidence to trust their instincts if they suspect meningitis and to keep pushing at the doctor’s surgery if they still suspect the disease.
Should you wish to support the research of Meningitis UK or you can make a donation online at www.meningitisuk.org.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions or concerns please go to the Meningitis UK website where there is a wealth of support information. You can find a pdf of the symptoms to download and keep to hand here – http://goo.gl/PoYS3
I remember Ed Kelly, he was in my year at school. It was a shock at the time and a wake up call that it’s not just “older” people that die. What a moving article and a great cause.