I first noticed something different with my oldest brother Adam, who was seven years old at the time. He started acting differently, all he wanted to do was lay down on the chairs next to Dad and close his eyes rather than play arcade games, quite unlike his usual energetic self. He was complaining of a stiff neck, moaning whilst Dad was trying to get him changed, he didn’t want to look at the light and kept telling us he wasn’t feeling well.
Feeling concerned, my Dad took Adam to the onsite nurse at the caravan park we were staying at, who suggested further medical attention due to his strange behaviour. As it was a Bank Holiday weekend, all local doctors’ surgeries were closed so we sought advice from a local pharmacist who advised Dad not to panic but to take him to Poole Accident and Emergency (A&E) as a matter of urgency.
My Dad, my youngest brother Zack, who was four years old, and I, waited in A&E as Adam received a variety of different tests. I was 11 years old at the time and I knew that something serious was going on. I felt so concerned and became a motherly figure for him whilst our Mum, who was not on holiday with us, waited at home for any updates.
After a long wait, a nurse informed us that they believed Adam was suffering from Chicken Pox. However on relaying this information back to my Mum in Bristol, she was concerned that he had already had Chicken Pox twice before and therefore doubted this diagnosis.
The hospital advised us that we should drive back to the caravan site and await a phone call for them in case the tests showed any further results. I helped Adam into his pyjamas and slept in the same room as him as Zack did the same with Dad. As the boys all went off to sleep quickly, all I could think about was hearing Dad’s phone go off in the middle of the night. That night was probably the worst I’ve ever experienced. I had just started to doze off to sleep when I heard the phone vibrating and ringing though the thin caravan walls. My heart started pounding, I wanted to cry but I had to stay strong for the boys.
On arrival there was a room in the children’s ward ready for us. My Dad had gone to meet my Mum and Nan, who had just driven to meet us. I shared a bed with Zack, who was worried for Adam and frightened by the unfamiliar hospital environment. The next thing I knew, Zack began to moan that he felt unwell; complaining that his head was hurting and about the bright lights coming in from the corridor. Alarm bells were ringing so I called the nurse immediately.
The doctors quickly moved Zack into his own bed, took a swab from his throat and left to carry out tests. As I looked at Adam asleep in his bed I felt overwhelmed at how fast everything seemed to be happening.
The nurse came back with a doctor, who told my parents the devastating news. Zack’s swab had come back positive for meningococcal septicaemia, the same as Adam’s results. It was like the world was falling apart around us and everybody was distraught. Dad decided to take me and my Nan back to the caravan and returned to the hospital to stay with Mum and the boys overnight while they started receiving treatment.
In the morning Nan and I were called to the hospital as everyone who had been in contact with the boys in the last 48 hours had to take a tablet to kill any bacteria that we may be carrying. The Department of Health (DoH) also got in contact with our local family doctor back in Bristol so that both my grandads and my Mum’s partner could receive a tablet.
In time, Zack started to show signs of improvement and was allowed to venture out of the hospital for a couple of hours, although he was still connected to hospital wires. Adam, on the other hand, had started producing a dark, purplish rash across his chest, back and down his legs. The rash was measured and was about the size of a 50 pence piece. 15 minutes later, it had spread and changed to the size of his fist. The doctors warned my Mum about the serious consequences of the rash and the medical team went to work on Adam immediately.
After his treatment, Adam was extremely sleepy and drowsy. When he woke up properly, my Mum grew increasingly concerned as he became confused; not understanding where he was or who my Mum was. The only question he could answer correctly was the name of the primary school he attended.
Days passed by and Zack had been given the all clear. His recovery was mostly due to his quick diagnosis and treatment. However, Adam was still ill and only showing small signs of improvement daily.
Finally, one afternoon, the doctors told my Mum that Adam was well enough to be transported back to Southmead hospital in Bristol. He continued treatment there for a few weeks while connected to the machines until he was allowed home. The doctors advised Mum that he had to keep his tubes in his arms even at home and was required to return to hospital daily for a month to have his medication given intravenously. His rash began to fade and he was discharged from the hospital but referred back to our GP for close observations.
Adam and Zack both had to continue visiting the children’s hospital for observations as well as for hearing and vision tests to see if anything had been damaged. After six months of recovery, both boys had the all clear and were discharged completely.
We were so fortunate to catch the illness in the first stages and that they both recovered with no serious after effects. Adam was diagnosed with dyslexia and had minor learning difficulties throughout school, which may have been a result of his meningitis but otherwise both recovered completely.
We all realise now how lucky we are to have two healthy boys who have gone through so much.
Comment from CSAG
Professor James Stuart of CoMO's Scientific Advisory Group (CSAG) commented “Amy's story is unusual, but it can sometimes happen that two members of the close family contract meningitis at the same time. This story clearly demonstrates the importance of vigilance among close family members when faced with the disease".
To read another personal meningitis story from around the world, click here.