Some days are easier than others for Siobhan and Noel Carroll, but there is never an easy day.
Siobhan and Noel's lives changed in a heartbeat when their eldest child, Aoibhe, passed away on 2 April 2008.
Aoibhe, who had just had her fourth birthday, woke up in the middle of the night with vomiting and diarrhoea. Noel was at home with Aoibhe and her brother Eimhin (two) while a pregnant Siobhan was in hospital for observation.
Noel comforted Aoibhe, changed her and tucked her back into bed. From hospital, Siobhan recalls that while she was worried that one of the kids was sick, “Kids get sick all the time. I had spoken to her on the phone earlier in the evening before she went to bed and she was in great form, so I wasn't overly worried."
When Aoibhe vomited again, Noel called the doctor, who said it sounded like Aoibhe had a vomiting bug. As her condition deteriorated, Noel rang the doctor again and followed his advice, cradling Aoibhe in his arms.
They were watching cartoons around 5am when Aoibhe's eyes closed. At first, Noel thought she was drifting off to sleep, but he then noticed that her lips were turning blue. He immediately rang an ambulance and phoned Siobhan.
“I spoke to Noel when the ambulance arrived,” she said, “and he told me: 'They're working on her'. And I didn't know what he meant by 'working on her.’ Surely she only had a vomiting bug.”
By the time the ambulance had arrived at the house, Aoibhe had stopped breathing. The ambulance crew managed to revive her and she was rushed into hospital, where Siobhan made her way over to the Accident and Emergency Room to wait for them.
“I remember standing outside in the dark. It was the middle of the night so it was very quiet, and off in the distance I could hear a siren. Do you know what I said? I said to myself, 'God, it sounds as if someone is very sick, God love them,' without realising it was the ambulance rushing my Aoibhe into hospital,” Siobhan remembers.
Aoibhe died within an hour, an aggressive strain of meningitis taking her life.
“I never got to hold her, I never got to say goodbye to her, and that's very hard to take. She was gone, just like that,” Siobhan recalls. “It’s the loneliness that’s the biggest thing. You have this huge pain in your heart, and it never, ever goes away. You don’t even learn to deal with it, you just understand that it will be there forever, and you work out how you can live from day-to-day with that pain.”
Eimhin, who shared a room with Aoibhe, went to bed with her there in the room with him and woke to a world where she had gone. Four weeks later, Siobhan gave birth to their son, Noah. Their youngest child, Sophie, was born the following year. Both have been told about Aoibhe and, like Eimhin, regularly ask about her.
Siobhan and Noel wanted to do everything they could to prevent another family going through the horror they did, so they threw themselves into raising awareness of meningitis, setting up a charity in Aoibhe’s memory.
ACT for Meningitis stands for both the Aoibhe Carroll Trust and the family’s three key messages encouraging people to: ‘ASK’ themselves if it could be meningitis; ‘CONTACT their doctor; and ‘TRUST’ their instincts.
“The charity keeps her name alive, and hopefully keeps people alive as well,” explains Siobhan.
“Meningitis is the biggest killer of children under the age of five in Ireland. We want to try and bring that to an end.”