On April 2 2008, four-year-old Aoibhe Carroll woke in the middle of the night complaining she was unwell.
Less than 24 hours later she passed away. The bubbly child had contracted a deadly strain of bacterial meningitis.
For Aoibhe’s parents, Noel and Siobhan from Oranmore in Galway, there were no tell-tale signs, only the devastating speed with which their daughter’s life was taken.
Meningitis remains to be the number-one killer and infectious disease for children under the age of five and affects 300 Irish people every year, destroying families in the process.
While many parents are still under the naive impression that their children are safe from this deadly disease, Siobhan Carroll spoke to SWM to warn them of the dangers, sharing Aoibhe’s heartbreaking story.
Like any other gorgeous fouryear-old, Aoibhe was the centre of her mum and dad’s universe. “She was always singing and dancing,” says Galway mum Siobhan. “She was so full of life.”
For Siobhan and Noel, nothing could have prepared them for the loss of their beautiful daughter who was alert and well on the day she was struck down with the disease.
“Aoibhe was in the Naíonraí that morning and she was perfectly well,” explains the mother of four.
But late into that evening Aoibhe began to complain that she felt unwell.
“Aoibhe woke up with vomiting and diarrhoea during the night,” Siobhan continues. “After a while Noel managed to get her to go back to sleep, but a few hours later she got sick again,” said Siobhan. “ By that stage Noel was getting worried and called the doctor, who told him it was probably a vomiting bug.”
What Noel could not have known was that Aoibhe was in fact displaying symptoms of Pneumococcal Meningitis, where more often than not children do not develop the ‘rash’ – a symptom which is so commonly associated with the disease.
Following the doctor’s advice, Noel made Aoibhe as comfortable as possible but at around 4am the doting dad realised that her condition was worsening.
“Noel was sitting downstairs with Aoibhe when suddenly her lips started turning blue and she became listless and lifeless,” says Siobhan.
Aoibhe was rushed away in an ambulance to the nearest hospital where doctors worked tirelessly to revive her, but she died within the hour.
Aoibhe’s death was all the more tragic because of Siobhan’s absence. On the night Aoibhe passed away, a heavily-pregnant Siobhan was forced to stay in hospital due to pregnancy complications, oblivious to the seriousness of Aoibhe’s condition.
“I never held her or got to say goodbye, it’s just all so wrong. Losing Aoibhe has just broken our hearts. We miss her so much she was so loved and adored, it has changed our lives.”
Picking up the pieces has been a slow and gruelling process for the resilient mum but slowly rebuilding her and her family’s life, Siobhan turned to the Meningitis Trust for solace. “I got in contact with the Meningitis Trust a few months after Aoibhe died. They provided such wonderful support.”
An active volunteer ever since, Siobhan has raised over €40,000 for the Meningitis Trust and has handed out more than 6,700 ‘Sign and Symptoms’ cards.
And now, thanks to the Vodafone ‘World of Difference’ programme, which gives 30 people across Ireland the opportunity to work in different charities and organisations across the country, Siobhan is working with the Meningitis Trust full-time for three months.
She says: “I get to raise muchneeded awareness, especially when it comes to the symptoms of meningitis. The majority of people believe they should wait for a rash but by the time they do that it is too late. Please God, through my work, I can prevent another family from going through this pain.
“There are never many opportunities to work with a charity and get paid but the Vodafone ‘World of Difference’ programme has ensured that I have the opportunity to work with such a worth while charity and really give something back.”
The Meningitis Trust supports anyone affected by this lifechanging disease through its free professional aftercare and support services. These include a 24-hour helpline (1800 523 196 in the Republic and 0800 028 1828 from Northern Ireland), staffed by nurses, counselling, bereavement support and home visits.
Sunday World Magazine