Tuesday 21 November 2017

Meningitis: the scenario all parents dread

Aoibhe was just four years old when she complained of a tummy ache. Four hours later she was deadsiobhan Carroll will never forget her beautiful daughter who was taken so suddenly by meningitis and now she wants to stop it happening to others, finds caroline crawford

ON NEW Year's Day, Siobhan Carroll and her family marked the eighth birthday of their oldest child, Aoibhe. The kids let off helium balloons, sending them up to heaven where, her brother Eimhin explained, Aoibhe was having her party.

Aoibhe was four years old when she died from meningitis. There had been no rash and what had appeared to be a tummy bug left the family reeling when doctors told them their little girl was gone.

Her mother remembers vividly the final days of the little girl who "brought so much joy".

"I remember saying goodbye to her that morning when she was going to pre-school, I remember telling her, 'I'll see you later'."

Sadly, Siobhan never got to see her daughter alive again. Eight-months pregnant, she attended a hospital check-up later that day and was kept in overnight for monitoring.

"I wasn't there the night Aoibhe died. I wasn't there to hold her or anything. From the time Aoibhe was born it was just me and Noel with them. The only night I was away from her was the night she died," she adds.

From her hospital bed, Siobhan spoke to her little girl before she went to bed : "She told me she had learned all about Africa and she said 'I love you Mammy', and that was it."

Hours later Siobhan got a call from her husband, Noel, telling her Aoibhe was sick and the ambulance was on the way. Aoibhe had woken with diarrhoea and vomiting. Noel changed her, gave her some Calpol and put her back to bed. When she woke again Noel called the out-of-hours doctors' service twice and was told a vomiting bug was going around. Siobhan's mother, Mary, called around to help and Aoibhe perked up and seemed content to lie in her dad's arms. But as she lay there Aoibhe suddenly went limp.

"It was horrendous. It's the speed of it that is so scary. They had checked her for a rash but there had been nothing," says Siobhan.

The next few minutes passed in a blur. Siobhan called her mother and was told the ambulance crew were working on Aoibhe. "I remember hearing someone say they've found a bit of a pulse."

Despite working on the little girl for 40 minutes, Aoibhe could not be resuscitated.

"I was sitting with Noel and our families in a room in the hospital and I knew the minute the priest walked in that she was gone.

Just four weeks later, Noah was born. Aoibhe had chosen his name weeks before her death, on learning she would be getting a new baby brother. With a toddler and newborn at home, a grieving Siobhan and Noel faced the next few months in a daze.

"After she died I felt like I was in a dream, it didn't seem real. I was on autopilot. Even now, when it's coming up on four years, I still ask myself has it happened. Sometimes I wonder has it ever really hit home," says Siobhan, whose youngest, Sophie, has just turned two.

Siobhan and Noel have set up a charity in memory of Aoibhe, Act for Meningitis. They hope to spare other families the pain they endured. Next week it will launch its Meningitis Awareness Cards which Siobhan hopes will make people "think beyond the rash": "I was a Montessori teacher and I knew the symptoms for meningitis. I would have always looked for a rash. We know now that in many cases there is no rash. We really need to get that information out there."

Act for Meningitis is on Facebook and Twitter, or see www.actformeningitis.ie

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