The heartbroken mother of a six-year-old girl who passed away from meningitis has revealed how the deadly infection killed her daughter "within hours".
Kayla Carey (6), from Co Meath, died last March 8 just hours after she became ill at a family birthday party.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, on the one-year anniversary of Kayla's death, mum Ger O'Connor said that it was terrifying to watch how quickly her little girl deteriorated.
"It's so crazy how fast it all happened. It was absolutely terrifying," Ger said.
"Kayla and her cousin were at a family birthday party and they were both in great form.
"Her cousin started to get sick that night, and Kayla said she wasn't feeling great either but they had eaten a lot of cake so we thought that was causing it. Neither of them had a rash or a high temperature."
Ger, who has three younger children, Faith (5), Brooklyn (18 months) and Charlie (three months), said that she put Kayla to bed and the next morning she was still complaining of a pain in her tummy.
"I told her she could stay in bed for the morning and I went down to get the younger kids their breakfast," she said.
"We then all hopped back into bed together and slept for an hour or two but when I tried to wake Kayla, I couldn't."
Ger became alarmed after noticing bruises appearing across Kayla's body.
"I called an ambulance but by the time she got to the hospital she was black and blue. I knew she was gone. It wiped her out within hours," she said.
"Kayla had been unwell for a few months previously and she was constantly in and out of the doctors.
"She had been losing weight and she was very pale. She was put on vitamins but I didn't see any improvement in her.
"She developed pneumonia and she was put on a course of steroids for a week but she seemed to have got over that well.
"In January she seemed herself again but her immune system must have been so low that my poor baby just didn't stand a chance when the meningitis hit.
"Nothing could have saved her and she died after developing septicaemia."
Kayla's 10-year-old cousin was also hospitalised with meningitis but made a full recovery.
"Her cousin was stronger and that's why she was able to beat it off," Ger said.
"They say it's not contagious - it can only be passed through the nose or mouth - but Kayla and her cousin used the same inhaler for their asthma at the birthday party."
A spokesperson for the Meningitis Research Foundation said that the bacteria that causes meningitis is transmitted from person to person by close contact with others.
"It can be transmitted by things such as coughing, sneezing or kissing," the spokesperson said.
"Usually we have to be in very close or regular contact with someone for the bacteria to pass between us.
"Even when this happens, most of us will not become ill because we have natural immunity. The bacteria do not naturally live or survive for long outside the human body."
On the one-year anniversary of her daughter's death, Ger also revealed how she hasn't yet been able to visit Kayla's grave.
"I haven't been able to go to her grave yet because every time I go near it I can't cope for a week afterwards," she said.
"All of Kayla's friends are so good. They still come up to me and ask if Kayla really is dead or when is she coming back to play with them.
"They're so young that they just don't understand but it's lovely how the school and her friends keep Kayla's memory alive."
Ger described Kayla as a "good child, with a heart of gold".
"She loved the outdoors and she was very spiritual for such a young age. She loved playing with her colourful crystals and stones in her room," she said.
"There was something about Kayla that just always stood out.
"When people would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she'd reply that she wanted to be small forever.
"We tell her brothers and sister that God just wanted Kayla back because she was so special. I tell myself that she was just too good for this world."
She said that her younger children are still struggling to cope with the loss of their sister.
"Faith is five now and she looks like Kayla more and more every day. I see her in Brooklyn too," Ger said.
"I'm very lucky I have the other kids to keep me busy and to give me plenty of cuddles.
"Faith in particular has been finding it very difficult because they were so close but we're trying to give her as many supports as we can.
"We got a new puppy called Minnie and she has brought some new energy into the house."
The devastated mum pleaded with other parents to vaccinate their children and to always "trust their instincts".
"Parents just know when something isn't right. There can be no symptoms with meningitis. It's terrifying how quickly it took Kayla," she said.
"But it's also so important to vaccinate your kids.
"Kayla was vaccinated and was up to date with her vaccines but it was the meningitis B strain that she caught, which wasn't included in the MMR vaccine for Kayla and Faith, but is now being offered to younger kids. It should be given to all children regardless.
"Every kid should be vaccinated. It's irresponsible to not vaccinate your kids.
"If your child says they have a pain in their tummy, constantly check your child.
"It's just absolutely frightening how often this happens and I don't want another family to suffer like we are."
Anyone with questions or concerns can call Meningitis Research Foundation's free helpline on 1800 41 33 44 or email email@example.com or visit meningitis.org.