Meningitis in your words

Elise Ria Ligtendag's story

  • Location: Europe
  • Categories: Pneumococcal
  • Age: Young child 3-5
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Elise Ria Ligtendag

On February 7th 2003 we lost our three-and-a-half year old daughter Elise Ria to pneumococcal meningitis. At the time we were living in The Netherlands, my husband's home-land. 

Very early on the Tuesday morning of that week Elise climbed into our bed. I was sleepily aware she was quite warm. On getting up I gave her some paracetamol. Later that morning she attended her playgroup; when I came to pick her up she was a little subdued. Often this was the case if she had not got to have a turn of a toy she wanted to play with. Later on that day Elise decided to lie down in her buggy as we went to meet her six-year-old sister, Lorna, from school. Mmmmm... I thought "is she coming down with something?". That evening Elise proudly announced, "I've eaten my pasta all up" and proceeded to dance around the room until bath-time.

On Wednesday Elise's temperature was up a little and she vomited later on that day. She was what I can only describe as 'under the weather', nothing at all specific in the way of any other symptoms.

"Elise was taken by ambulance with police outriders escorting us."

The next day she woke with a very high temperature and within three and a half hours she was rushed to hospital unconscious. We were told that Elise's brain was swelling and she was being treated for meningitis. Elise had to be transferred to another PICU. In Holland only university hospitals have paediatric intensive care units and the university hospital we were in did not have any PICU beds available that day. Elise was taken by ambulance with police outriders escorting us to get there in the minimum time. The medical team with their expertise tried their hardest. 

On Friday morning after performing extensive tests we were told that Elise's brain was not functioning and that she would not recover. At 8pm her life support machine was switched off. The medical team showed great compassion towards Elise, to us, to her sister and also to our family who came immediately from London, Paris and within Holland to be with us.

Our world had shattered. The numbness and shock set in, which for me continued for many months as slowly the enormous reality of what had happened started to creep in. Some months later we met with the doctors and nurse who had looked after Elise. We spoke at great length about Elise and meningitis.

Very soon after Elise's death I telephoned the helpline of the Meningitis Research Foundation. There I spoke, again at great length, with the staff on the helpline who provided support and a good listening ear. Through the charity's befriending service I was put in touch with a lady who had a similar story to myself. At that time it was a lifeline to be able to talk to someone about the disease and who understood the sheer speed that the illness can take.

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about Elise in some way and as a family we all miss her."

Personally for me it has been a very steep learning curve about people. The old clichés of 'time will heal' and  'you will get over it' do not apply when a parent loses a child. The death of a child is something you never get over and it is the worst loss to bear.
Time doesn't heal or fill a gap in our family. The best I can say is that I have learned to live with what has happened, it is part of my life. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about Elise in some way and as a family we all miss her. Six years on and I do smile and laugh again, of course great things happen. Life is for living, albeit in a different way.
Carol Ligtendag
March 2009