My name is Emma Ryan, I was 16 years of age and in transition year at Summerhill College in Athlone in April 2007, the worst month of my life.
It was the week after the tragic death of my cousin Brian Keogh, who had died on 13th April 2007 from meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. To be honest this was the first time in my life I had heard of meningitis. It had never affected my life in any way and I most definitely did not know how fatal it could be.
A week after Brian died I developed a sore throat. But for me this was not unusual, as I suffered from sore throats regularly and it was understandable as I had been through a very traumatic week.
On 19th April I was feeling fine, I still had my slight sore throat but otherwise was OK. My friend called to see me that evening as I was preparing to return to school after Brian's death. I went to bed early but it was just one of those nights when I could not fall asleep. At about 3am I awoke and found myself shaking uncontrollably. I was shaking with the cold but yet when my mam came in to me I appeared to be running a temperature. I asked my mam to bring more bedclothes as I felt so cold. She took me into her bed and gave me Panadol for my temperature. She checked my body for any rash every hour as everyone was on high alert after what had happened to Brian.
The morning of 20th April my mother rang the doctor to make an appointment and I was due to see her at 3pm that afternoon. At about 12pm I felt a sudden surge of sickness in my stomach. I called my mother and she immediately checked my body for any sign of rash. She noticed tiny red pinpricks all over my back and on my hands.
She asked my Dad to phone the casualty department in our local hospital, Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, to tell them we were on our way and give them details of my symptoms and that I was a cousin to Brian. It was in this casualty department that Brian had passed away a week previously. I know that only for what happened to Brian we would not have noticed the symptoms and would not have taken immediate action.
We reached the hospital in about 20 minutes and I still did not think that I had meningitis. The casualty department were waiting for us and they too were on high alert after the death of Brian, and also another local boy who had been admitted for meningitis about a month prior. Thinking about it now this was the scariest experience of my life.
I was given an antibiotic immediately and while I was still in casualty large red pinpricks started to appear on the back of my hands. I was then transferred to a ward and the doctor carried out a lumbar puncture as they still were not sure if it was meningitis. I was then transferred to the Intensive care unit. For the rest of the day and that night they continued to give me antibiotics. I was feeling fine, was eating OK, but throughout the following day and evening more pinpricks appeared on my hands and feet.
During the night of 21st things started to get worse. On that night - the day after I was admitted to hospital - it was confirmed that I had the bacterial form of meningitis and by Saturday 22nd I felt really ill. The doctor informed my parents that I was extremely ill and they had to increase the antibiotic dosage and hoped it would kill off the infection. They also had to insert a central line into my veins as they were afraid of organ failure. I was extremely ill all day Saturday and I thought I was going to die, I had never felt so sick in all my life. I still would not believe I had meningitis and all I wanted to do was feel better again and for the nightmare to end. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and getting sick. My parents stayed with me night and day from the day I was admitted. It was not until Sunday morning - day four - that I began to feel anyway better.
I had to remain in Intensive Care for one week and was then transferred to a hospital ward for observation. My friends Oonagh and Ciara were then allowed visit me and this really helped.
Having meningitis has really changed my outlook on life. I realise how lucky I was to have been so near to the hospital when the spots first appeared and, had it not been for my cousin Brian's death from the disease, I may not be alive today to tell my story.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the nurses and doctors who looked after me in the casualty department and the intensive care unit and to all my friends and family who were so kind and good to me during my illness. I realise how lucky I am not to have suffered any after effects.
Making people aware by providing information about this deadly disease is so important. I hope my story will help in some way to highlight the need for awareness and may save other people's lives.