In 2003, Emma McKeon’s sister Gillian (pictured right) fell ill with meningitis at the age of 25.
She had all the usual signs of a migraine - vomiting, headache and dislike of bright lights. However, Gillian did not develop a rash. As her symptoms grew more severe, Gillian was rushed to hospital. She suffered cardiac arrest and later a series of mini-strokes. Gillian was on life support for 7 months. However, that was only the start of her battle. Gillian fought the after-effects of the disease for ten years.
She was determined to regain her independence, despite the devastation meningitis had caused. Emma (pictured left) describes the courageous journey her sister had with meningitis and the struggle her family had with getting Gillian the services she needed: ‘‘Gillian was in hospital for a full year and a half. She regained some physical movements and had a tracheotomy in place which meant she could not eat. For a long time at the beginning, she could not speak with sound. Lip reading was extremely frustrating for all. As a family, my mother gave up her life for Gillian, caring for her, fighting for her. The HSE provided care for her, but at every corner there was a battle - a battle to get the services she needed. As Gillian was sick for so long, doctors nearly didn’t bother with her. But my Mam was a trooper, and she knew she could not leave her daughter like this. It is down to my Mam; her mental support to Gillian also helped her through it. Being told there’s no point or she’ll get no better was so hard to hear. Gillian would not accept this and neither would Mam.’’
Gillian was very aware of exactly what she lost to the disease and wanted nothing more than her body to cooperate. Following a ten-year struggle with severe after-effects, Gillian sadly passed away from pneumonia in 2013, at the age of 34.
Emma describes her sister's frustration at what meningitis had taken from her: ‘’Everyone around her was getting on with their lives and she was so stuck. The hardest part of it all was that mentally, Gillian was perfect. She knew exactly what she had lost, exactly what she was left with. Physically, her body just wouldn’t cooperate. She worked so hard to regain her life, but was so utterly depressed and frustrated at every point of life now.’’
By sharing Gillian's story, Emma hopes to highlight the serious after-effects of meningitis, promote awareness of the serious nature of this disease, and encourage people to take up any vaccines available to them. Emma explains how Gillian’s illness changed everyone in their family – both good and bad: “I suppose it definitely changed my outlook on life. Life is for living, don’t care what people think, take joy in the little things, and love your family.”