Meningitis in your words

Philip Brady's story

  • Location: Northern Ireland
  • Categories: Group C meningococcal (Men C)
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Child
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Philip Brady

Philip was 16 just four days before he died of meningococcal septicaemia on 16th January 2000. It has been devastating for us, his family.

Philip was the eldest of three boys and the oldest grandson on both sides. Cormac his brother was then 12 and Ultan was eight. Philip was just touching six foot tall, athletic, bright, fun-loving and enjoying life to the full. He was in Transition Year, which is 4th year in secondary school, and had done very well in his Junior Certificate just a few months previously. Just a month before his death he had been in the school production of Guys and Dolls. It was the best time of his life. He had played one of the guys and also a sailor.

Philip's last week was a highly active one. Schools had reopened on the Monday after the Christmas holidays. Philip went off on a three-day trip to a cross border leadership programme with two other schools from Northern Ireland. By all accounts it was action-packed and challenging, but good fun. When he arrived home on his birthday on Wednesday he was very tired as he hadn't had much sleep, sharing a dormitory with seven other boys. On Thursday Philip was back in class but he also played in an Ulster semi-final basketball match. Philip had always been a strong basketball player and he was delighted to win the match.  Friday was to be his last day at school. During both break times and after school that evening he practiced basketball with the team in preparation for the final the following week. 

On Saturday morning, Aidan, one of Philip's best friends, arrived at our house and got him out of bed.  After lunch, we dropped the two boys off at their friend Colm's house.  I remember watching Philip as he walked off, bouncing a ball at the same time. The boys later went into town where they met up with other friends. 

We had arranged to pick Philip up at 8pm in town but he telephoned at 7.30pm and asked his father to come early. Philip came in, shivering with the cold, saying he didn't feel well. This was the first indication we had that he was sick. He refused dinner but said he may have it later. On the news that night we were told of the flu epidemic, so we weren't too worried at that stage. He said he didn't have a headache and when we asked if he had a rash, he said he'd check for himself, which he did. He didn't have one. He lay on the couch and was very much part of conversation. 

Around 10pm he decided to go to bed as he had started vomiting.  We continued to keep a close eye on him as we were aware of meningitis. His neck was not stiff and he had no problem with the light when we switched it on to check on him. He knew himself that we were querying meningitis, but told us he'd be fine if we'd let him get a good night's sleep. I checked on Philip at 1.30am and his Dad looked in on him at 2am. He spoke to both of us. 

The next morning, Sunday, we both woke at 7.30am. I went straight to check Philip and knew immediately that something was dreadfully wrong. His eyes had a glazed expression, he was disoriented and he wasn't talking. The doctor, who came promptly, checked for a rash but there was none at that stage. He told us Philip needed to go to hospital. We brought him by car and he was brought in sitting up in a wheelchair. We were so relieved to have him there. Three little pin-prick spots had appeared on his shoulder and the doctor told us he thought it was meningitis, but could not confirm it until they did a lumbar puncture. He was being put on a drip and taken to intensive care where we could see him as soon as he was settled. 

Two hours later, having still not seen Philip, the consultant and a nurse informed us that his condition had deteriorated and he was on life support. He had developed septicaemia and they were doing everything they could to save him. When we saw him we could hardly take it in. He was covered in a red blotchy rash.

"I think we knew in our hearts that there was no way back for him",- says Philip's mother.

For the next three and a half hours we waited and prayed. Some family and friends, including Philip's two friends, arrived. In the end, his Dad and I were taken into Philip and we were told he was dying. We didn't realise at the time that the life support was being switched off. He could not be saved. Just 24 hours previously he was hanging out with his friends in town. Needless to say we were heartbroken and grief-stricken. Shortly afterwards our other two boys arrived with my parents and we had to break the awful news to them. 

We brought Philip home that night. Our house was full of family, friends and neighbours, including many students and teachers from Philip's school. The support we received from so many people was overwhelming and really carried us through those terribly sad days. 

Philip's funeral was on Tuesday morning. Guards of honour were formed by the schools attended by Philip and by the football clubs where he played. His aunts, uncles, cousins and school-mates all took an active part in the ceremony. The school folk group sang.

"It was a beautiful Mass and a lovely tribute to Philip's short life",- says Mary Brady.

We were told later that Philip had died of strain C Meningococcal Septicaemia. We were all vaccinated afterwards as were some of his friends. 

A member of the Meningitis Research Foundation, John Brady (no relation), whose son had also died from meningitis, contacted us. 

We started the 'Philip Brady Meningitis Fund' in our local Credit Union and the response was amazing.  The fund is still open and active and many thousands of euros have been forwarded to the Meningitis Research Foundation in Philip's name every year.

Time has helped us cope but the sadness remains. Our other two boys, Cormac and Ultan, have been the focus of our lives and together we have muddled through the grief. We still visit Philip's grave every day. We miss him so much and that is something we know will never go away. 

Mary Brady
March 2009

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