Alex had celebrated her 18th birthday in September 2001. She had just started the Upper Sixth and was hoping to go to university to study psychology to become a clinical psychologist. On the Thursday before she was taken ill I had taken her for a visit to Hull University, they offered a course which could result in her achieving her goal some six years later.
All seemed well, although during her final term at school she appeared unwell. She became very tired with a chesty cough. I thought it might be pressure of her courses but nevertheless I was concerned about her health. She had suffered from epilepsy in her early teens but had been taken off medication. She had been fit-free for two years and was looking forward to taking her driving test in January 2002.
A few weeks before the 18th December (when she was taken ill) she became very tired and was struggling daily to go to school. I was concerned the epilepsy might be returning, but this would mean she would not be able to take her driving test. I think she realised this and kept saying she was OK. Unbeknown to me she was experiencing sensitivity to light - a symptom of both meningitis and epilepsy.
The evening before she was taken ill she insisted on going to an end of term Christmas party against my wishes. According to her friends she was not well that evening, but struggled on, which was typical of Alex. She stayed with a friend overnight, but (I learned later) she had a fit but still refused to go to hospital.
The following morning she came home, I had gone to work but Alex's dad had not left for work and was still at home. Alex rang me at work and said she did not feel well and could not go to school. I told her to tell her dad to take her to the doctor's, which he did. They both came back, a little relieved - the doctor had said it was a severe case of flu, to go to bed and rest. Alex went to her room and her dad stayed off work with her, but later that morning it became clear that she had become very ill.
Her dad contacted the local GP but by this time Alex was covered in a rash. The GP came to the house. I came home to find a helicopter hovering over our village, I knew it was for Alex and things must be bad. My husband had hinted on the phone that it could be meningitis. Alex was airlifted to hospital and two to three hours later was taken by road to a specialist intensive care unit. She was not expected to survive the night but Alex did not give in. It was a further nine days before her life support machine was turned off at 8.10pm Boxing Day evening.
Alex was our only child and sometimes I don't think people realise how much of our life has been taken from us. I contacted the Meningitis Research Foundation shortly after Alex's death probably because I wanted somebody to know what had happened and what was this dreadful disease that had suddenly devastated our family life? The Foundation was quick to act and one morning Sarah appeared on my doorstep, a person who might have some idea of what we were going through. She visited on several occasions and was of tremendous support to me and my husband at a very difficult time in our lives. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for those visits.
I also took part in the befriending courses which I am sure also helped me to come to terms with what happened. Jody was very aware of my situation and the fact that I had lost my only child. I am still willing to offer support and help to any family affected by this disease. Sometimes I have struggled to survive the years without Alex and will never get over it. People always say things will get easier, but I would not entirely agree with that, it is more about learning to live with a tragedy which impacts on your whole life.
VALERIE LAYTON (MUM)
In Memory of Alexandra Jane Layton 12th September 1983 - 26th December 2001