Meningitis in your words

Edward Kitchin's story

  • Categories: Group C meningococcal (Men C)
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Edward Kitchin

Edward was 19 years old when he died.  He was one of my husband's and myself's four children and had one younger brother and two sisters, one older and one younger.

Edward started his first term at Portsmouth University in Autumn 1997.   He had chosen his university course on the basis of whether a skate park was available nearby! He was living in a rented house in Southsea with three other students.

My husband and myself, who live in Birmingham, went to see Ed on Saturday 8th November.  This was seven weeks into the term and we were trying to see if he was doing any work! We went out with him on the Saturday and he seemed as normal but a bit tired; for example, he stayed in the car while we went to look at the Historic Dockyard, and didn't want a second pint of lager when we went for a meal in the evening!

We went back home on Sunday.

 I had just returned from work on Monday 10th November when two policemen arrived at our door. You know someone has died when policemen come into your house but won't tell you why.  Edward had been found dead in his room by his friends.  This was a phenomenal shock because we had only seen him two days previously, when he had appeared fine.

As it was an unexpected death, Edward's room in his house in Portsmouth was locked and his friends had to go and stay elsewhere while investigations took place.  Drug overdose etc. had to be considered.  It was very unsettling to see Edward's face on the front page of Birmingham newspapers, and he was also on the front page of Portsmouth paper.  You couldn't help imagining what Edward would have thought about this fame?!

"I just wanted him to come home. It was my overriding feeling. I wanted him to be in our house."

I just wanted him to come home.  It was my overriding feeling.  I wanted him to be in our house. However, there had to be a post-mortem, which identified meningococcal septicaemia as the cause of death, before his body could be released to us.  My husband, myself and our eldest daughter went to Portsmouth to see Ed in the hospital mortuary.  He had no rash of any kind visible on his body, although the PM report mentioned a rash on his arm, which was actually his eczema!

We talked to Edward's house mates and found out what had happened.

On the Sunday evening two of them had gone for a drink, but Edward had felt tired and so stayed at home with his other friend.  They watched a video, (Kalifornia), listened to music and smoked cannabis. Apparently Edward started feeling cold and shivery and had a stomach ache and went to bed early.  His bedroom was the smallest room, (cheapest), and upstairs at the back of the house.

The next morning Ed's three housemates went to university and when two of them got back in the afternoon, they started to wonder where Edward was.  One went upstairs to his room and found him dead, naked on the floor.  They rang the emergency services and Edward was taken to hospital where his death was confirmed.  When we were eventually allowed into Edward's room by the police, his clothes were in a sweaty heap at the bottom of his bed.  He must have taken them off as he became feverish.

One of the most difficult things for us all was wondering what had actually happened and how Edward might have suffered with nobody there.

My eldest daughter and myself went to Portsmouth after Edward was found dead and we slept in his room to try and connect with him and feel closer to what happened.  I slept on the floor where he had been found.  His friends were very kind and considerate to us.  We mourned him together.

Our dog was very happy when we brought Edward's things home because they smelt of him and the dog obviously thought he was returning with his things.  It was very poignant.

We did have Edward overnight in our house before his funeral, but it was for such a short time, when I had wanted him at home from the time he was found dead. My younger son and myself dressed Ed in the clothes he was wearing when we last saw him in Portsmouth; he was very clothes conscious.

Edward's younger sister, who had been too upset by his death to do any of things the rest of us managed to do, got an opportunity to see him and say goodbye when he was at home for that one night.

My husband composed and gave Edward's eulogy at his funeral; a very brave thing which no-one else in the family could have done.

Edward's death was part of the outbreak of meningitis among students in 1997 which led to the introduction of the Meningitis C vaccine.  Three students died at Southampton University and we wondered if Edward had picked up the meningococcal bacteria when he had gone to a protest march held there, against the abolition of student grants.

We continued to visit Edward's friends during the time they were at Portsmouth University, but felt we should stop pestering them when the time came that they might have parted company from Ed anyway.  One of his friends left university without completing his course, perhaps as a result of what happened to Edward.  We have a memorial bench for Edward in the Union and Library grounds at the university, and visit it on the anniversary of Ed's death each year.

For a long time after Edward's death, I felt I would like to move to Portsmouth to be closer to him, but the rest of the family pointed out he had only been at Portsmouth University for seven weeks and the rest of his life had been in Birmingham.  We tend to be argumentative as a family.  Another result of this is that Edward's ashes are still by my and my husband's bed, not scattered!  We cannot reach a unanimous decision! We think this is probably appropriate, as Ed was the most argumentative and opinionated of the family.

Jane Kitchin
September 2019