Wednesday 21 March 2018

'Looking back you realise how close we were to losing Sami' - rugby star Matt Dawson urges parents to recognise early signs of meningitis

Matt Dawson and his children Sami (3) and Alex (5)
Matt Dawson and his children Sami (3) and Alex (5)
Sami and Alex Dawson
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

English rugby star Matt Dawson has said he wants no parent to go through what his family did when his toddler contracted meningitis and in a coma in intensive care.

The scrum half wants parents to be aware of the warning signs that he didn't know about when his son, Sami, contracted the illness.

"In February 2016, just after his second birthday, we woke up to just a normal  morning as we thought. He was a little bit grumpy as if he had that virus, fever type thing.

"He got progressively worse and worse and there was symptoms of meningitis which I didn't realise at the time," he told

Like many parents Matt was aware of one symptom of meningitis which is a rash that does not disappear when pressed with a glass.

"He was a bit feverish, a bit dizzy, slightly nauseated,a bit of diarrhea, he had these cold hands and feet even though he was really, really hot... I didn't know at the time that they were signs of meningitis.

Sam Dawson
Sam Dawson

"In a blink he was rushed off into a private little area and before you know it he is induced into a coma and I didn't speak to him again for ten days,"

"It all happened in a flash and yet [my] reason for standing here now is to raise awareness and understanding of those symptoms because I was in that exact position where I didn't know the symptoms and if I had I could have done something a lot quicker.

"Thankfully Sami is OK but there are too many cases where the children are not OK and time is of the essence."

Matt experienced every parent's worst nightmare during the ten days his son was in a coma being cared for by doctors.

Sami Dawson
Sami Dawson

"At the time it's all hands on deck. You are arranging everything there is to arrange.... everything is going at 100 miles an hour," he said.

"It's only when you reflect on it now you realise my goodness, how close we were to losing little Sami'.

Ireland captain Rory Best has backed Matt's campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of the disease.

"Everyone was aware of what Matt went through... as a parent it was a no brainer to [help] raise a bit of awareness," he said.

Irish rugby captain Rory Best and former England rugby player, Matt Dawson (Picture Jason Clarke)
Irish rugby captain Rory Best and former England rugby player, Matt Dawson (Picture Jason Clarke)

"I was like a lot of people I thought the rash was the first sign... it scared me a little bit that that wasn't the case, that there's  lot of cases where they don't even contract a rash and there are many other symptoms that come a lot earlier," he said. 

Both sports stars urged parents to check out the HSE website

"All of this is around that gut instance as a parent, you know when your child is ill, really ill... go with that gut instinct," Matt said.

"I wouldn't want anyone to go through what we went through last February," he said.

His youngster has made a full recovery and is now "good as gold" the proud dad said.

"He is running around playing with his brother and and they're fighting and scrapping and doing all the things that they do," he said.

"We're very lucky. In our case, a lot of the medics said, in 80 or 90pc of cases there would be a loss of a digit or a limb, or worse and yet Sami managed to get out fully unscathed, with just a few scars here and there.

"We are incredibly fortunate but that doesn't detract from the fact that there are a lot of cases out there that don't end up well so knowing those symptoms can be absolutely crucial," he said.

Today marks World Meningitis Day and the rugby players were lending their support to a campaign being run by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKlin called Tackle Meningitis.

More information about the disease can be found on the HSE website.

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