Meningitis in your words

Alan Farnan's story

  • Location: Ireland
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Young Adult 20-25
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Alan Farnan

My name is Mary Farnan and my husband Denis and I have had three children, Genna, Alan and Steven. We live in Castleknock and I have run a playschool for the past 10 years. Because it is so important to be vigilant in my work with children, I am very well informed and aware of the symptoms of meningitis.

On August 10th 2006 my son Alan went to work as usual. He was in his normal good humour and showed no signs of feeling unwell. Alan was a very tall, well-built 23-year-old. 

At around 12 noon he began to feel unwell and by 2pm his boss was worried enough to drive Alan home.

Alan was home by 2.20pm and at that stage he needed help walking. His temperature was 39 degrees and he had a very rapid heartbeat. He complained of pain in his neck. I tried to contact our GP but to no avail, so I phoned the VHI Helpline. The nurse I spoke to advised me to call an ambulance and get to the hospital as quickly as possible in case of meningitis. Alan arrived at A&E at 3.50pm. There was no rash on Alan, so the doctors had difficulty making a diagnosis. Also, Alan had just spent two weeks on the River Shannon and they thought he may have picked a virus up from the water.

I had given Alan paracetamol at home so he was not given anything in the hospital. He was experiencing pain in every part of his body, which was getting worse, and he asked for something to relieve it and was given one difene. I had noticed that, although he was burning up, his feet were very cold. At midnight it was decided that he should have a lumbar puncture, as doctors were still unclear as to Alan's condition. Alan's oxygen levels were dropping, and at 2.45am a rash appeared all over his body. It was like he was covered in tiny bruises. His glands swelled up and blood stained tears ran from his eyes.

At this stage I was told to prepare for the worst and to call the rest of our family to the hospital.

"Our larger than life wonderful son is no more."

The junior doctor then phoned the consultant and he came to A&E. It was only at this stage that Alan was given the appropriate treatment for meningitis. We were told that Alan would be taken to Intensive Care Unit and kept asleep on a ventilator for three days to give him a better chance. My husband and I then spoke to Alan and told him what was happening so he wouldn't be scared. He understood what we were saying and we left the room while they got him ready.

A few moments later we were informed that things had taken a very bad turn and when we got back in to Alan he was dead. Our son passed away at 6am on Friday 11th August. It was very quick and unreal. We will never know if Alan would have survived had he been treated for meningitis straight away. I believe that all people, including professionals, need to know not to wait for a rash, as it may, or may not, appear. Alan's death certificate read 'Meningococcal Septicaemia. Heart failure'.

Our lives have changed so much since that horrible day. We will never be the same again. Our larger than life wonderful son is no more. There is an ache in our hearts that we hide, as we get on with the job of everyday living. Sometimes it would be easier not to get up in the morning, but we have our other two beautiful children, Genna and Steven, to live for.

At the time of Alan's death, the hospital had to notify the health authority and we were given preventative medication. They also put us in touch with Meningitis Research Foundation. We feel they really understood our pain and we have learned so much from them. They continue to be an on-going source of support for our family. We had so many questions and they were there to answer them all for us.

I believe that we took all the right steps in attempting to seek appropriate intervention for our son Alan's presenting symptoms, but unfortunately more education is needed in hospitals.

On 11th August 2006 our lives were shattered. My husband and I were, I believe, like most parents in that we thought that 1) something like this would never come to our door, and 2) if it did, we would recognise it and be able to take the appropriate steps to save our child.

Written by: Mary Farnan
April 2009