Katie Francis

Meningococcal disease at 15

Meningococcal disease

My daughter contracted meningococcal septicaemia in April 1995, aged 15. She had flu symptoms for two days and I thought she was just being a 'teenager' and whinging about nothing. When she said that she felt like she was dying, alarm bells rang in my head. I went through all the publicised symptoms of meningitis and she had none - no headache, no stiff neck, no aversion to light, no sickness, but her whole body ached and she could hardly move. When I saw the rash I KNEW.

I rang the doctor and initially they asked me to bring her to the surgery. After another call an emergency doctor came very quickly, affirmed my beliefs and administered large doses of antibiotic and I called for an ambulance. While arranging things for my other family, the doctor explained what she had done and what I could expect when she was in hospital. Pure fear and panic had set in now when I realised just how serious this REALLY was.

In hospital she was surrounded by doctors who paralysed her whole system to give the antibiotics a better chance. She had a fit while I was there and I was terrified that she would die in front of me. They arranged helicopter transport to a Birmingham hospital with specialist facilities and an ITU unit, and I went by car. When I got there she was on a life support unit and apparently had almost died in the helicopter. The whole thing was totally overwhelming and unreal.

All the staff were amazing, answering my many questions, explaining procedures, and in frequent contact with St Mary's Hospital in London. I was able to spend as long as I wanted in the room with her and was encouraged to talk to her and touch her, even though she was being kept alive by machines. I was also given a room to stay in, so I lived in the hospital for ten days. My family and her friends were allowed to see her (previously being shown photos of her wired to all the machines, as it was so upsetting)

For the first three days no-one knew if she was going to live or die - the most horrible feeling not knowing if I was going to have to arrange a funeral for my child. If I had not recognised the symptoms so soon she would have died.

Slowly she responded to treatment and after ten days I was able to take her home, still not knowing if she was going to be brain damaged or not. She was lucky that the septicaemia had not damaged her limbs so she had no amputations.

I was in contact with the MRF by this time (initiated by hospital staff) and any questions I had about the disease or what to expect afterward were knowledgably answered.

She went on to take some of her GCSEs only six weeks after contracting this frightening disease, and only has a few tiny scars left from the rash.

Even after all this time it still upsets me to think about what might have happened if I had not recognised the rash, as it was the only recognisable symptom she displayed. So be VERY scared when your child is extremely ill - always call the doctor or emergency services, it is better to find out it is nothing, than to have a dead child.