Tuesday 16 January 2018

Even as a paramedic, I couldn't save our son from meningitis

Dave Sheehan and his wife Yvonne lost their son Robbie
Dave Sheehan and his wife Yvonne lost their son Robbie
Survivor Sophia Roche with her mum Minna at Temple Street. Conor Healy Photography
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A GRIEVING paramedic has told of the devastating speed at which his young son died from meningitis, despite his own medical training.

Robbie Sheehan (2) from Moone, Co Kildare, died after being struck down by the infection after a Saturday spent playing with his cousins, in April 2007.

His father David told how he and his wife Yvonne were initially unconcerned when their son started vomiting, because they merely thought he had eaten too many sweets. He showed none of the classic signs of meningitis. However, the couple realised there was something wrong when Robbie began to hallucinate, crying out that he was falling.

They brought him to hospital in Portlaoise, where staff could not pin his illness down, but said they would treat him 'for everything' and he was put on a drip of antibiotics.

Some time later, David and Yvonne went to change their son's nappy and spotted the telltale devastating rash.

By the Sunday night, Robbie was still very ill but had stabilised, with doctors telling them that the next 24 hours would be critical.

Shortly after 6am on Monday, David and Yvonne, along with Robbie's two grandmothers, were praying in the family room when a nurse burst in, asking for the family.

"We ran after her and just as we went through the doors of intensive care I could see 15 medics in the small room with him," Mr Sheehan said.

"All I could see was the consultant doing compressions on his chest," he recalled.


Mr Sheehan began to plead with his son to survive. But then the consultant turned to him, saying: "I think we should let him go, I think we should stop now."

Heartbroken, Mr Sheehan said: "I think you're right."

"Within 30 seconds they had most of the tubes and leads of out him and the room was cleared and we sat there with him," he said.

The devastation of meningitis was shared by Siobhan and Noel Carroll from Oranmore, Co Galway, who lost their daughter Aoibhe (4) in April 2008.

Both families are now supporting ACT for Meningitis, a support group that has joined forces with the Meningitis Research Foundation to highlight the need for swift action if parents suspect the illness in their child.

Happily, Harry Glynn (3) from Oranmore, Co Galway, survived an attack at the age of three months. His mother, Maeve, said it was the high-pitched cry that had alerted her that there was something wrong – but she never suspected meningitis. "We were lucky enough to get a doctor that realised what it was," she said.

"Just one hour later and it would have been too late."

Broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan joined the campaign yesterday at Temple Street hospital, posing with 248 brown teddy bears representing each patient affected by the disease in Ireland each year – and 24 white teddy bears representing the number of deaths caused by meningitis.

Meningitis is an infection of the brain and spinal cord, which can also pass into the bloodstream, causing septicaemia.

Teens and children, especially babies, are most at risk.

Irish Independent

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