A teacher from Ashbourne is preparing to run the TCS London Marathon in memory of her friend who lost her battle with meningitis, and for her mother, who survived the disease but lost both her legs.
Emily Johnson, 38, from Mayfield, will be taking on the famous road race on Sunday 2nd October, to raise funds for the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) which funds lifesaving research, advocates for change and provides support for families affected by the disease.
Emily’s life was turned upside down 9 years ago when her mum, Rita Randall, was taken ill after initially suffering with a headache. When she didn’t answer the phone or door the following day a relative called the emergency services. She was rushed to hospital, where a rash appeared and her health continued to deteriorate. Rita was put on life support, placed in a medically induced coma and within 48 hours of falling ill she lost both her legs. She was diagnosed with streptococcal meningitis and septicaemia and doctors gave her just a 20 per cent chance of survival.
Against the odds, Rita beat the disease but it’s been a long road to recovery. Rita spent six months in total in hospital, the first two on life support, and is living with life changing after effects including the loss of both legs and the sight in one eye. Emily said while the impact of meningitis will always be with them, she has been inspired by her Mum’s bravery.
“My Mum will always be my hero” said Emily. “When Mum woke from her coma and learned she had lost both legs she said ‘I’m still here and I’ve got everything to live for. I can’t complain. I’ve never liked my feet anyway’ - it was utterly remarkable. We’ve since been told that Mum’s journey has enabled staff the hospital to treat another person quickly, effectively and successfully. I’m not sure how many more there may have been since, but she made a difference. I hope that my marathon makes a difference too and saves someone from this journey that changed everything for us.”
Emily’s life was once again turned upside in 2020, when her close friend Jess Lowndes died suddenly after contracting meningitis at the age of 19. Family and friends describe Jess as having an “infectious giggle” and “beautiful smile.” Jess, a veterinary nurse, had registered as an organ donor and after her death saved nine other lives, including a two-year-old boy. Emily now plans to run her first marathon in memory of her friend, Jess, and to mark the courage of her mum, Rita.
Emily, Mum of two, said: “When my lungs hurt, I think of the life still in them, Jess doesn’t have that. When my legs hurt, I think of the ability to use them, mum doesn’t have that. That’s what drives me. I can’t bring Jess back or change what happened to mum. But what I can do is raise awareness to hopefully prevent this happening to other families. Quite simply, if I could change the outcome for just one person, I’d run 1000 miles.”
Emily, who works as a primary school teacher at Ilam CofE (VA) Primary School, will be one of more than 180 Meningitis Research Foundation runners racing to defeat meningitis, raising vital funds and awareness, ahead of World Meningitis Day 2022, which takes place just three days after the London Marathon on Wednesday 5th October.
Globally, bacterial meningitis kills 1 in 10 people who contract it and causes life-long disability for 1 in 5 survivors. Symptoms can be confused with other illnesses, like COVID or flu, and it can kill within hours.
Every year, people from all over the world come together for World Meningitis Day to raise awareness of the disease. This year, for the first time in history there is a Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030. By turning the World Health Organisation’s road map into reality, it could save more than 200,000 lives every year and significantly reduce disabilities caused by meningitis. To mark World Meningitis Day activities will be taking place worldwide to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms, the vaccines available and that it is a disease that needs global attention and effort to be defeated.
Ian Beningfield, Head of Fundraising for Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Meningitis can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time and is a race against time because it has the potential to kill within hours. Our vision is a world free of meningitis and the clock is ticking to make every day to 2030 count. We are incredibly grateful to Emily and all our marathon runners who have trained tirelessly for many months, at times in extreme weather conditions, in preparation for this year’s event. Not only are they helping to bring greater attention to a global health issue that needs to be defeated, but every penny raised will be used to help fund vital research and support families impacted by this devastating disease.”
To sponsor Emily, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/emily-johnson64
For information about how to get involved in World Meningitis Day and join the global effort to defeat meningitis, visit: www.worldmeningitisday.org