Brave Norma vows to battle on and save others from meningitis
A WOMAN who lost both legs after contracting meningitis has warned others to spot the signs of the potentially killer disease.
Double amputee Norma McCarthy wants the public to learn the symptoms of meningitis, which are similar to flu or a hangover and include fever, vomiting, sensitivity to bright lights, neck stiffness and a rash.
The 27-year-old, from Kilcornan, Co Limerick, maintains her disability has never held her back, but does not want others to suffer the same way.
"The most important advice I can give to anyone is to take the awareness message seriously," she said.
"Know the symptoms and you could save a life. If someone is not feeling well take them to the hospital because it can be detected.
"I wouldn't like to see this happen to anybody else. It's a terrible ordeal to have to go through; skin grafts, operations, up and down to theatre. But I got through it with great support."
Young adults are twice as likely to carry the bacteria that cause meningitis -- which is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord -- and septicaemia, the blood-poisoning form of the disease. Up to 300 cases of the conditions are recorded each year, with up to 10pc of patients dying. A further 20pc of survivors are left with serious after-effects including amputations, deafness, blindness and epilepsy.
Recent figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show a dramatic fall in the uptake of meningitis vaccines.
Ms McCarthy, who was launching Meningitis Awareness Week, which starts today, was 15 when she felt drowsy after a fall.
She was taken to hospital for fear she had a head or neck injury when a rash appeared on her stomach and medics tested her for meningitis.
Despite missing almost two years of school after spending eight months in hospital -- including 111 days in a medically-induced coma and a year at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire -- she went back to sit her Leaving Certificate and took courses in secretarial and office administration skills. "It didn't hold me back," added Ms McCarthy, who has two artificial limbs from the knees down.
The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) said people can be vaccinated against many forms of meningitis through the childhood immunisation scheme. But there is no vaccine for meningococcal group B disease.
Diane McConnell, MRF Ireland manager, said: "It is extremely important that children have all immunisations."
Anyone with concerns can contact the MRF 24-hour freephone helpline on 1800 41 33 44 or log on to www.meningitis.org.