Paula Donnelly, 30, had just completed her degree Sport, Exercise and Nutrition at Northumbria University when she contracted deadly bacterial meningitis in March 2012. Young, healthy and rarely unwell, Paula was hospitalised in intensive care just 24 hours after she first fell ill, with family in Northern Ireland told to fly over immediately as she might not survive.
“I’d been at a family event with an ex-partner,” said Paula. “So the following morning when I woke up feeling stiff and achy I just assumed it was because I’d slept on the sofa.”
As the day progressed Paula began to experience nausea, light sensitivity, and extreme fatigue. She said: “I wanted to be sociable with his family but I couldn’t stand the light. I just sat there with a duvet over my head.”
Paula had contracted bacterial meningitis, a serious disease which acts fast and kills 1 in 10 of those that contract it. She said: “Everyone thought it was food poisoning because I got so ill so quickly. On the train back to Newcastle I was so vacant, and my whole body was in pain. The pain was excruciating.”
Paula at her graduation from Northumbria University, with her parents.
Paula barely remembers returning to her flat in Newcastle that evening, where she immediately went to bed. “I just wanted to be left alone,” she recalls. “But luckily my boyfriend and flatmate kept checking on me, and noticed a few dark purple dots on my stomach, like a rash. They rang 111 and they sent out an ambulance. I remember hearing sirens but insisting I was fine – I didn’t want to be a burden.”