Meningitis in your words

Rebecca Little's story

  • Location: Ireland
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Relationship: Child
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Rebecca Little

We adopted Becky when she was eight months old. She was born in London of parents from Barbados, but Ireland was always her home - she never knew anything else. Her brother Dominic was also adopted and he too felt - and feels - Irish. Both of our children have lived here all their lives - they're Irish. 

Becky loved the craic; if there was a party going on, Becky had to be there. And she was a great cook, she could rustle up the most wonderful dishes in the kitchen. Eventually she decided to study catering in college.

She had just finished her first term in a catering and hospitality course in Manchester Metro and had come home for Christmas. However, she got sick on January 3rd. We called the doctor and he came by and tested her for all the meningitis symptoms, but he couldn't find anything, and told me not to worry. He was very vigilant, but he simply couldn't find any signs of meningitis. 

By about 2am that night she came upstairs and told me she had been sick. I sat with her for the whole time but her pain just kept getting worse and worse.

One of the symptoms is cold hands and feet but Becky's hands were always cold, so I didn't think much of it. 

Yet at one stage she said to me: "Mum, I can't handle this." She was in immense pain.

Finally, around 8am on January 4th, Becky was rushed to hospital. The doctor had called by three times; he just couldn't understand what was wrong with her. He had known Becky all her life so he was terribly upset. The last time he called around to see her he said we'd have to get her to a casualty ward and called an ambulance.

By the time we got to hospital it was far too late. She was in a coma and had already rapidly deteriorated. But I still didn't really know that she was going to die. She had often suffered from bad asthma when she was younger and the doctors had always been able to help her. 

But the doctor who was looking after her said to me: "You realise Becky is very sick," and then I knew it was time to call Roger, who had left for work at 7am that morning.

We just thought she had a bad bout of the flu. But Becky's condition deteriorated and she lost her fight.

Totally devastated, but still hardly able to believe what had happened, I drove home as fast as I could to tell Dominic the dreadful news. He was absolutely stunned. After all, he had just heard that she had the flu and suddenly she was dead. I urged him to come in and see her so we could say our farewells and I think afterwards he was glad.

It wasn't until after her death that we were told Becky had meningitis. Following the doctor's advice, and greatly helped by the hospital, Roger immediately contacted all Becky's friends and anyone who had been in her company to make sure they hadn't contracted the disease. That was a lot of people, as she'd been out partying over Christmas and the New Year. Half of Dublin knew within hours and thankfully no-one else was affected.

Over 400 people turned up to pay their last respects to Becky at her funeral. We couldn't believe it. People who had only spoken to her once turned up. Becky was such a special person that she touched peoples' lives. They were horrified that she could have been so healthy a week before and then dead.

"People were wonderful. I think the Irish have a capacity to deal with death. English people seem not to like to talk about death, but you have to if you want to survive it and cope",- says Pat Little.

We received some 850 letters and cards of sympathy when Becky died, some from people who had met her for just an hour - it was an amazing thing. It opened up a whole community of solidarity and friendship with people we didn't even know that well.

Pupils from her school contacted us because they wanted to set up a Rebecca Little memorial award for the most helpful and friendly sixth-former of the year. Becky had been a prefect they had known when they were first formers and they remembered how kind she had been. We were amazed that children as young as 13 years old would actually pick up the phone and ring us. But we were delighted, and what is really special about the award is that it's the 1st year pupils who vote for the winning prefect, not the teachers.

We contacted Sallynoggin Senior College and the Manchester Metropolitan University, where Becky had studied catering, with similar ideas for tributes. So now there are three memorial awards all dedicated to Becky. By now all the students who would have known her have left, but that means that her memory will live on. We set up these Rebecca Little funds soon after her death so there would always be money for the student prizes and people were very generous.

But what's really important to us is that, although we are both academics, none of the awards is for academic qualities. They are about personality and friendliness, which reflects just who Becky was.

Pat and Roger Little
April 2009