Wednesday 21 February 2018

TV host wants to save people from her meningitis fate

Daraine Mulvihill, who lost her limbs, wants all children to have the new meningitis B vaccine, writes Niamh Horan.

As fireworks lit up the night sky from the window of the intensive care unit, Daraine Mulvihill's mother and father had to make a dreadful decision.

Their beloved 16-year-old daughter was hovering between life and death from a lethal strain of meningitis C and had received the last rites.

Doctors explained to her parents that Daraine's only hope of survival and to stop the spread of the disease was to have her limbs amputated.

Hours beforehand she had been in bed with flu-like symptoms when she noticed tiny red spots creep across her hands and legs. Her parents rushed her to hospital but the prognosis wasn't good.

"My parents were sitting in the hospital that night looking out at the Skyfest fireworks and all of these celebrations were going on outside while this was unravelling. It was surreal for them.

"My father said to the doctors: 'How do you want me to tell my 16-year-old daughter when she comes around that I told them they could take her legs?'."

Now the television presenter wants to warn other families against the same fate.

Daraine just missed the vaccine for menigitis C, which became widely available six months after her illness.

Now she is keen that another strain of the disease – meningitis B, for which a vaccine has just been approved – should not be allowed to take a hold.

And last week the now 29-year-old Daraine urged: "If one person hears my story and says 'that's a vaccine worth getting' then it was worth going through."

Ms Mulvihill, who was voted Person of The Year in 2001 for her attitude in overcoming the obstacle, said she harbours no bitterness that she missed out on the chance of immunisation – instead she wants to use her energy positively by urging other people to get the vaccine.

"It's a pity it didn't come out in time for me but life just happens and you can't turn back the clock," she says.

"You'd only drive yourself crazy if you thought of all the reasons you might have avoided what happened. In other ways I am very lucky. What if I had just slept through and never noticed the red spots? Other things were blessings. Some people are cautious about this new vaccine but with something as important as this it's not worth being cautious about."

The European Commission has just approved the vaccine 'Bexsero' for use against the meningitis B strain most prevalent in Ireland and it is currently being evaluated for inclusion on Ireland's national immunisation programme.

Ireland has the highest rate of the deadly meningitis B infections in Europe, with over three times the average rate of the disease.

Dubbed "the silent killer", meningitis is feared by parents because it mostly affects young children, develops extremely rapidly and the symptoms are easily confused with less serious infections such as the flu.

When Daraine eventually awoke from her coma, doctors had to remind her several times that her legs had been amputated.

"It was the middle of the night and a nurse came in my room and I said that my toenail was digging into my other toe. She asked what I meant. And she explained that my feet weren't there anymore. It finally dawned on me and I just cried and cried all night."

The pretty teenager also had to face the pain of having her hands removed before her deteriorating health turned around and she was finally on the road to recovery.

"When they were dressing my wounds and changing the bandages on my hands I used to put on my headphones, close my eyes and listen to the music on my CD player. It was my way of coping. If I didn't see it, it wasn't happening. But as the bandages got smaller each time I knew my hands were gone."

Wearing a beautiful gold wristwatch and bracelet where her dressing once covered, her face lights up and she talks animatedly and with the confidence that got her through her darkest days.

She made it her goal to be out of a wheelchair and walking with prosthetics by the time her new school year commenced – and she had the last bandage removed from her knees and the prosthetics fitted the night before first term.

She's since graduated in communications studies at Dublin City University and is in a long-term relationship with her college sweetheart.

She was one of the Channel 4 team during the 2012 Para-Olympics and is currently working on a new RTE programme, In Their Shoes – in which Daraine and a group of teenagers with disabilities jet off on an adventure to a top secret exotic location.

Since leaving college she has also been honoured with a People of the Year award, and was appointed to the Irish Council of State by President Mary McAleese.

"I saw footage of myself in the early days of my recovery process saying I would love to be able to go to the cinema one day. And now I think 'God I can't believe that was my big goal back then'. I've done so many things since and, who knows, maybe I wouldn't have had the opportunity if things hadn't gone the way they did. So there's a positive in everything."

"I have no problem talking about what happened me if it will help other people but at the same time I don't want it to define me. It's just one part of my life."

Speaking about her biggest high since turning her life around she says: "It's hard to pick one but I'd say one of the best moments for me so far was standing in the middle of the Olympics closing ceremony and looking at all the fireworks light up the sky overhead, it was all so beautiful and just took my breath away and tears rolled down my cheeks."

It was a long way from the night her parents gazed up at a similar spectacle wondering what would become of their daughter.

Irish Independent

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