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meningitis & septicaemia can kill in hours!

People who are faced with meningitis and septicaemia have to act fast to help save a life.

Laura Mittelman

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Pneumococcal meningitis

During the last weekend of January 2000 our family's life changed forever.

Early on Saturday morning our youngest daughter, Alice, who was two years old, started to feel a little unwell. Up to this point she had been a normal, healthy, robust little girl. She had a slightly raised temperature and was a little sick (although not enough to put her off her food). Her temperature was easily controlled by Calpol, so that she continued to be lively and playful.

By Saturday afternoon, her temperature remained high, with Calpol no longer having a significant effect. Our local GP visited us at home and after examining Alice, suggested we try Nurofen for her temperature, which we did. Alice was well enough to have tea with her sisters on Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday morning Alice was significantly worse and the head of our GP practice came to our house. Alice was by now lying on our sofa and moaning. Our GP thought she had had a febrile convulsion during the night and wrote a letter for us to take to Kings' College Hospital (our nearest hospital).

At Kings Alice was examined by a senior house doctor who thought that she had 'flu, prescribed Dioralyte and sent us home. However, by early Sunday evening we decided to take her back to Kings as she seemed to be deteriorating in front of us.

We were seen at once by the registrar, who thought immediately that Alice had pneumococcal meningitis. She was pumped full of antibiotics, sedated and taken for a brain scan, which revealed that she did have meningitis. We were reassured by the medical team that since we had caught the disease so quickly there was a very good chance of Alice making a complete recovery.

Unfortunately at approximately 2am the nurse monitoring Alice's progress noticed that one of her pupils was more dilated than the other, indicating that she had fitted. Another brain scan revealed that the fitting had caused her brain to expand onto her spinal column. She was admitted to the PICU where we were told that Alice's chances of survival were small.  While we were with her, her heart stopped and although the medical team revived her, we tried to come to terms with the fact that we would probably not leave hospital with her.

Alice officially died on Tuesday 1st February after two independent brain stem tests indicated that there was no activity in her brain. She had never regained consciousness since arriving at Kings on Sunday evening. We took the decision to turn off all her machines and let her die peacefully in our arms.

We had been encouraged by Alice's medical team to bring our two other daughters (Molly, 5 and Emma, 4) to see Alice so that they would understand a little better how ill she was. Our own grieving process was taken up to a large extent on caring for Molly and Emma and explaining the inexplicable to them.

We also desperately wanted to make some sort of sense of Alice's short life and to this end we decided to set up a charitable foundation (the Alice Faith Mittelman Foundation) to raise money for meningitis research. We phoned the Meningitis Research Foundation helpline shortly after Alice died because, whilst we had been well aware of meningitis and its warning symptoms, we simply knew nothing of pneumococcal meningitis. We had an incredibly helpful meeting with Sarah Unsworth who guided us in the setting up of our Foundation.

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received in our fundraising efforts over the years and have seen events organised in Alice's name all over the world. I also became a befriender through the MRF in the hope that I can make a difference in someone else's life. More recently we were involved in the campaign to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine into the childhood immunisation programme.  Nine years after Alice's death we are pleased with these achievements and feel blessed with our two remarkable teenage daughters but the hole in our hearts and home can never be healed. 

Video clip, copyright GlaxoSmithKline group of companies, 2009

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