Jim, Sue and Bonnie's Story
Jim, Sue and Bonnie, USA
Bonnie had been sick for a couple of days around Christmas of 1990. We went to her doctor and he thought she had the flu. He prescribed an antibiotic. She seemed to be getting better, but a few days later Bonnie came home from school feeling very ill. I called the doctor and he thought she might not be over the flu, so he prescribed another antibiotic. We started that, but within a couple of days, she was even sicker. I called the doctor again and he told us that if she wasn’t better by the morning to bring her to his office. She became so ill that night with a high fever that she didn’t even know me or her surroundings.
We called the doctor the next morning and we took her in to see him. He was sure at this point that it wasn’t the flu. He said it was either encephalitis or spinal meningitis. He gave her a shot of something and called an ambulance to take her to Children’s Hospital. They wanted to life flight her to the hospital, but a helicopter could not land in Coraopolis where the doctor was located. When we arrived at the hospital they said the only way they could tell if it was spinal meningitis was by doing a spinal tap. The test confirmed it was meningitis. They said the first 24 hours would be critical. The meningitis was very advanced by this time and they gave us little hope for recovery.
They asked us about an experimental drug they wanted to try and we signed the papers to allow them to use it. They told us that the headache with spinal meningitis was 100 times greater than any you have ever experienced. They did several brain scans and MRIs. She was in an induced coma for about a week before they administered the experimental treatment. When she woke up, she had seizures which they said were common with meningitis. She was put on a seizure medicine called Tegretol for about two months after leaving the hospital.
We were told that she did not have the contagious form, so no medicine was needed for her classmates. Bonnie did not have the Hib vaccine which had just come out. Our pediatrician at the time said that unless she was in daycare, he did not advise getting it because it had side effects. The doctors also said the type of meningitis she contracted would have been more common for a younger child. She was 5 years old, going on 6 in February. We got a call from The New England Medical Journal after we returned home and they wanted to do a study on her because they said it was not supposed to have been possible for her to have contracted the type of meningitis she had at her age. They wanted to do a study to update the medical books. We declined at the time because Bonnie had already been through so much and was still struggling to get back to normal. Bonnie’s illness had also taken an emotional toll on our family as well. She had been in the hospital for about two weeks and when she came home, she was so weak that she couldn’t even walk, lift her head, or feed herself. She returned to Children’s Hospital for many follow up tests and doctor visits. After her recovery, Bonnie experienced terrible nightmares where she would hallucinate. She returned to school on Valentine’s Day of 1991 after her terrible ordeal with meningitis.
- Bonnie’s parents, Jim & Sue
I am currently 29 years old. I am extremely blessed not to have suffered any severe side effects. I do have some issues though, that have never completely gone away. After my recovery I was diagnosed with a learning disability in math, and I have had trouble retaining information. I also have problems with overly sensitive hearing and slight coordination issues. Despite all these obstacles, I ended up graduating from high school and college with honors in all my classes and have a degree in Applied Psychology. I have also completed some graduate coursework in psychology as well.
I think our limitations in life are conditioned by what we let others tell us we can’t do. If we believe in ourselves, great things are possible. My driving force in this is to use my experience to help others who have suffered from the horrible effects of meningitis and to advocate for the prevention of this disease.
To read another personal meningitis story from around the world, click here.