Gold medal-winning Paralympian, Aaron Phipps MBE, had to have both legs amputated from the knee down, along with most of his fingers, after contracting meningitis at the age of 15. After spending a year in hospital to recover, he cites the experience as having given him the drive to seize the opportunities life gives him.
I was 15 years old, living with my mum, my dad, and my younger sister (who is four years younger than me). I was always quite an active kid – in the scouts, ATC, I liked fishing, being out on my bike, all that kind of thing.
I was in Year 11 and it was the first day back to school after the Christmas holidays. I got home from school and told my mum that I didn’t feel great. But, it was January so there were loads of things flying around, so we didn’t think anything of it, we just thought I’d caught a regular flu.
My mum took my temperature, which went up. I got into bed, took some paracetamol, went to sleep – as you do. I got up and vomited twice in the night, cleaned my teeth and got back into bed, as you do when you’re poorly.
My dad woke me up in the morning and asked how I was – to say I was feeling rubbish was putting it politely! I got up to go to the toilet and I collapsed on the landing. Dad ran upstairs, scooped me up and put me into my parents' bed. My mum saw a rash appearing on my chest. She vaguely knew the symptoms of meningitis and asked my little sister to bring a glass, except my sister didn’t understand why, so she kept bringing a glass of water. My mum explained that she just needed a glass and pressed down on the rash – the rash didn’t disappear.
Mum called out a doctor, who called out an ambulance. The time from my very first symptoms, to being on life support machines, was 12 hours. From the rash appearing, to being on life support machines, was one hour. Can you imagine if it had been the weekend and my parents had decided to let me lie in? It probably would have been a different story.
The scary thing is, if you look at my symptoms, I had a fever and I vomited twice. That’s it. Ironically, I think if I had gone to the hospital earlier, I would have been sent home. You wouldn’t instantly think ‘oh this person has meningitis’. You’d tell them to take some paracetamol and go to bed.
My mum came with me in the ambulance. My dad took my sister to our grandparents. I arrived at the hospital very confused and not knowing what was happening. From then, I was sedated and fed really strong antibiotics, as were my parents as a precautionary measure, which made them sick. The medics told my parents there was nothing else they could do, and my family needed to come in to say goodbye.
I developed sepsis and, although I did wake up, it was machines that were keeping me alive. I was presented with a situation where it became clear that I was going to have to have the tips of my fingers and my toes amputated. Then the medics broke the news to me that it wasn’t just going to be that – it was going to have to be my feet as well. It was really, really difficult.
What happened next was my rehabilitation, I was down to about seven stone and pretty much as close to death as anyone could be at that time – I was one of the first people with that level of illness that they managed to save. It was really tough.