Mary Stafford

Pneumococcal meningitis at 23

Pneumococcal meningitis

At lunchtime on Friday 26th April 2002 I received a phone call informing me that my husband Wesley had had an accident at work and his eye had been seriously damaged.  Our children, Ruth and David, came to hospital in Belfast to see him.  Our other daughter, Jenni, was at university in York at the time, and she came back home the next morning.  After intense treatment for a week he was discharged and Jenni traveled back to York, and Ruth and David stayed with their dad and I.

Ruth was trainee social worker and was married with a baby son called Andrew who was aged 11 months at the time. After being off work to spend time with her father, Ruth's first day back was Friday, 3rd May.  Early in the day Ruth called me to say that she had terrible pains in her head, and being concerned that they sounded quite severe I asked if she had a sore neck, pain anywhere else, or if she had been feeling sick, to which she replied no.  She appeared to feel quite unwell but wouldn't consider taking the day off work as there was an important meeting she wanted to attend. 

I went to work myself that morning, looking forward to lunchtime as I would be finishing work for a few days holiday. But just before lunch I received a call from Ruth's husband Joe saying she had taken ill at work and was on her way to hospital.  I rushed straight there and on seeing her was shocked at just how ill she seemed.  She was totally incoherent but threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly.  When she lay down I asked her about her son Andrew, but she didn't respond and didn't seem to understand.  Within a matter of minutes Ruth was taken from A&E to Intensive Care where life support machines were attached.  Panic set in when meningitis was mentioned and I didn't know what to do, as I was on my own at the hospital.  Wesley was still very ill and was being looked after by David, at the time aged just 16, who was off school for spring bank holiday. 

I decided to call our minister, the Reverend Eddie Coulter, who just the previous week had been so caring during my husband's illness.  Eddie came to hospital immediately and from that moment onwards was a tower of strength for us all.  Jenni had just arrived back in York but on hearing the news turned right back round again, not really knowing just how bad things were. 

I was told that on her way to the hospital Ruth had been violently sick and tests were ongoing, but soon it was confirmed that she was being treated for pneumococcal septicaemia.  On hearing the news, my heart sank and I just didn't know what to do or what to expect but all the staff at the hospital - from the consultants and senior doctors to the nurses and domestic staff - were fantastic and could not have been more understanding. Their sensitivity and thoughtfulness was superb and although this was clearly harrowing news and a traumatic time for us, the support of the people around us made it possible to get through. 

On Saturday morning, approximately 24 hours after the symptoms first appeared, we found out that the dreaded illness could not be cured and we had to take the difficult decision to turn off the life support machines.  On Sunday 5th May 2002 at the age of just 23, my beautiful and promising daughter's life had ended. 

Ruth had seemed to have her whole life ahead of her, and had just embarked on a new career and has just received a date for her university graduation.  Joe, Ruth's husband, found things difficult.  It was just approaching their second wedding anniversary and they had been enjoying life with their new baby son so much.  At just 11 months though, Andrew was unaware of all the turmoil and shortly after the funeral came to live with myself and Wesley, and at Joe's suggestion, we are now his legal guardians.  Although we miss Ruth dearly, having Andrew with us has made it feel as if part of her is still with us. He is an amazing child, and has brought so much to the lives of myself and Wesley, who was registered blind soon after Ruth's death as a result of his accident at work. 

We could not have got though the difficult days and months after Ruth's death without the support of a wonderful network of family and friends.  Ruth loved music and the band that she used to play with now raise money each Christmas for Meningitis Research Foundation.  We have made many wonderful friends through the Foundation and helping raise money and awareness alongside them has helped us take a positive message from our experiences.  Their support is always just a phone call away and it's impossible to underestimate just how much this means.

We all miss Ruth, and always will, but it is important to focus on the happy memories and she is remembered for the affection that she showed to us all, and of course in the little treasure she left with us that is Andrew.