A PEAK woman who overcame the odds to survive one of the most life-threatening forms of meningitis is warning others to be aware of the symptoms of the disease.
After contracting the illness, Kath Morris was in intensive care for ten days and her family were repeatedly told to fear the worst. But the 56-year-old, from Taddington, astounded medical experts by fighting back against the disease and she was able to leave hospital after six weeks.
Now Kath is sharing her experience to make other people aware of the vital symptoms and signs of meningitis to look out for, following national Meningitis Awareness Week.
In March 2010, Kath had been suffering with long-standing flu-like symptoms and an ear infection. At the time she was living in Scarborough and drove herself to her local walk-in centre - a round trip of 28 miles.
“I was given antibiotics and told to go to bed,” Kath explained. “I went back to my partner’s house and several hours later he noticed I was rambling and my eyes were rolling backwards.”
Kath was immediately taken to hospital where she was placed in intensive care and found to have pneumococcal meningitis - caused by bacteria invading the bloodstream and spreading to the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis include headaches, having a stiff neck and a dislike of bright lights, but there is often no rash.
“I don’t remember anything after going to bed but my family were told it was life threatening and I was in intensive care for ten days,” Kath said. “The scans were some of the worst they’d (the medical staff) ever seen.
“It took a long time for me to get better. I had to learn to talk again, I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t hold anything.
“For my family, who were told that there was a small chance I’d survive but that it was very unlikely I would survive and if I did I would be severely brain damaged, it was a very difficult time.
“I was sedated very heavily but to think that for ten days they had to sit there not knowing if they were ever going to be able to speak to me again, it’s hard to talk about even now. That is a terrible thing for any family to go through.”
Kath has now been referred to a specialist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield for follow-up care. “It has been discovered that I have got an ear defect and that if I get an ear infection there is a route through which it can get into my brain,” she said.
“I’ve also got an immune system deficiency which makes it doubly dangerous. I don’t naturally make antibodies to pneumococcal meningitis.”
Kath will live with the after effects of her illness for the rest of her life. She must carry a letter with her at all times, explaining about the meningitis and the deficiencies that she has so that she can be admitted to hospital and given antibiotics intravenously should she need them. She has also been left with arthritis.
“I feel OK but there are times when I can’t push myself to do things like I used to,” she added.
“But I am lucky that I know what my vulnerability is because of all the tests.
“It is a miracle (that I survived). Nobody can believe I did. Not even the ITU (intensive care) staff can believe it.”
Kath’s illness brought with it a new found sense of calm - and a marriage proposal! Her long-term partner Trevor popped the question shortly after Kath left hospital and the couple tied the knot last October.
Now she is looking to the future and hoping that by highlighting what she went through, more people will become aware of the disease.
“You’ve got to be aware of this condition and not ignore things like ear infections,” she advised. “If you have any symptoms, do something about it and if someone you know is in that position, you need to get them to hospital. Be emphatic and be assertive.
“I didn’t say I think I’ve got meningitis, it never crossed my mind and by the time anybody suspected I had it, I couldn’t speak anyway.
“But adults do get meningitis and it can be very, very serious. You need to act quickly. In the space of a day, I had gone from being able to drive to actually being in a coma in a life-threatening position.”