Sunday 21 January 2018

'Speed is of the essence when it's meningitis'

It is important to recognise symptoms including fever or vomiting and severe headache and to act immediately
It is important to recognise symptoms including fever or vomiting and severe headache and to act immediately
Kelly McKeever with her son Jonah, who spent more than two weeks in hospital with meningitis.

Arlene Harris

Wednesday is World Meningitis Day, and people are being encouraged to be aware of the signs to reduce the risks caused by this serious disease.

To highlight World Meningitis Day Arlene Harris spoke to two families affected by the illness, and heard their experiences.

Ireland has the highest rate of meningococcal disease in the EU, and there are about 170 cases of Meningitis B diagnosed here each year. Wednesday April 24 is World Meningitis Day, and the Meningitis Research Foundation of Ireland (MRFI) is encouraging people to be aware of the signs, and take swift action, in order to reduce the risks caused by this serious disease.

Jonah McKeever, from Delgany in Wicklow, developed meningitis when he was five months old, and although he had none of the tell-tale symptoms, his parents Kelly and Damian wasted no time in seeking medical advice as they thought their baby seemed very out of sorts.

This quick thinking most certainly reduced the damage caused by the meningitis he had contracted, and quite possibly saved their son's life.

"When Jonah was about five months old, he became hot and cranky over the course of a couple of days," recalls Kelly. "I took him to the GP who said he probably had an ear infection as his big sister, Grace, had recently had one. She prescribed an antibiotic but said if his temperature didn't go down, I should bring him back.

"To this day I am so glad she said that, because although he had none of the classic symptoms, such as a rash or an aversion to light, I knew there was something not quite right because he was still hot, his skin was grey, and when he tried to cry no sound came out of his mouth. So the following day, I took him to the hospital as it was Saturday and the surgery was closed."

When the McKeever family arrived at the emergency department at the National Children's Hospital in Tallaght, their baby was seen quite quickly and it wasn't long before his doctors diagnosed meningitis.

"Initially we went to triage where Jonah was cooled down, and we were told to keep him hydrated as a urine sample was needed," says Kelly. "Because he was so young, this was quite difficult to get, but once it was done, we were put into a cubicle and a doctor came in and said he thought it was meningitis.

"Those words struck fear into my heart as it is so scary to hear someone say this about your baby. I burst into tears but after a few minutes I calmed down because I told myself it couldn't be meningitis as Jonah didn't have any of the classic symptoms.

"But after bloods were taken, it was confirmed that not only did he have meningitis but it was bacterial rather than viral, and he had also developed septicaemia, and had a 25pc chance of making a full recovery – we were utterly devastated."

When they first took their son to A&E, Kelly and Damian fully expected to be home within a few hours or at worst the following day. But Jonah was admitted immediately and spent more than two weeks battling meningitis.

'The first 48 hours after Jonah was diagnosed is still a bit of a blur," admits the Wicklow woman. "He was put on a triple antibiotic immediately, and moved from triage to the High Dependency Ward where he remained for five days. We had to take things one day at a time, which was very difficult, but every half-hour he got through we were more and more hopeful for his recovery.

"By the fifth day, we could see that he was a lot brighter – he had always been such a happy baby and seemed to recover some of his good humour.

'Then after just over a fortnight in hospital, Jonah appeared to have made a full recovery and doctors said this was down to the speed in which we took him to hospital.

"He is now two years old and is a bright, sociable boy, but he has got delayed speech and we don't know if this is as a result of the meningitis or not. On the other hand, his comprehension is good and there is nothing wrong with his hearing, so fingers crossed, his speech will come in time.

"Our story is a happy one, but it really has made me realise that speed is of the essence when it comes to meningitis, and if we had waited another 24 hours before taking Jonah to hospital, we might have ended up with a very different scenario."


This article appeared in the Health & Living supplement, free every Monday.

Irish Independent

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