Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


`Why I know we must fight this terrible illness'
" Rowandale Integrated Primary School pupils Calla Nic Aoidh and Anna Nic Aoidh who both suffered from Meningitis pictured with their mother and school principal Mrs Frances Hughes raising awareness of Meningitis by taking part in a Toddle Woddle in the School. US1408-113A0 Picture By Aidan O'Reilly

THE thought of one of your children developing meningitis is a nightmare for any parent.

But the principal of a local primary school had to endure the agony of watching two of her children fighting the illness on life support machines at the same time.

Frances Hughes, the head teacher at Rowandale Integrated PS in Moira, has the 15th April 2005 seared into her memory. Her third child was just six weeks old when her two older daughters, Calla and Anna, began to show the symptoms of what looked like a bad bug.

They both had high temperatures and were vomiting and Frances, who lives in Newry, gave them paracetamol to cool them down.

But when Calla the eldest, who is now seven, developed a rash on her chest Frances' husband Karl put her straight in the car and took her to Daisy Hill Hospital.

The doctors immediately realised it was serious and the rash had spread across her body. They rang the house to see if anyone else was ill. Anna, of course, was.

Both girls were sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital and six week old Eoife was taken to Daisy Hill as a precaution but was given the all clear.

However Calla and Anna were suffering from septicaemia and barely conscious. They were in intensive care on life support machines for up to five days.

Frances and Karl could not be given any assurances and all they could do was wait and see if their two young daughters would respond to antibiotics. After a nightmare 48 hours both girls began responding to treatment, but it was two weeks before they were both home.

Their parents' worst fear of amputation and loss of hearing were fortunately eased and both made a full recovery.

However Calla, who was the worst, still had to have physiotherapy to help her to walk again.

"It was just the worst nightmare," said Frances. "It was bad enough to have one child so sick but we had two. The doctors were very good, but they had to tell us they could not make any promises.

"We were just so thankful that the doctors at Daisy Hill acted quickly."

That terrifying incident puts Frances in a position to know just how important research and education on this terrible illness is.

And it's why she is hoping nursery teachers and childminders will help to organise a Toddle Waddle on behalf of Meningitis Trust this month.

Throughout April the Trust is staging its 9th Toddle Waddle and is appealing for toddlers to take part.

The sponsored walk is for the under 5s - raising funds to provide ongoing support to families all over the UK who have been affected by meningitis

Rowandale Integrated Primary School, which has just opened, held their first Toddle Waddle last year.

Frances said: "I have organised several Toddle Waddles for Meningitis Trust, including a treasure hunt and a woodland adventure Toddle Waddle. Teachers and child carers can use their imagination and make this a fun activity for everyone.

Meningitis Trust urges you to hold a Toddle Waddle

THE CHARITY Meningitis Trust was there for the family while the children were in hospital, and when they got home.

Frances paid tribute to the Trust and their volunteers.

"I know how important the work of the Meningitis Trust is" she said. "Holding a Toddle

Waddle is a big boost to them. They gave us great support when we needed it during and after our hospital stay."

Toddle Waddle Organiser, Steve Williams, said; The tinder 5s are an 'at risk' group for the disease. Meningitis kills more of this age group than any other infectious disease in the UK. Although there is a serious underlying message to this event, it is also lots of fun for the kids."

After her family's experience Frances is contacted now for advice.

"I get calls from friends and family when their children are sick," she said. "They ask 'did they have this or that'. Not every child has the same symptoms but you have to just be aware of the symptoms of meningitis.

"If you are in ever any doubt bring them to hospital. It is better to be safe than sorry. Know the symptoms and Meningitis Trust have a helpline and offer good advice."

Over the last eight years, Toddle Waddle events have raised 2million for the Meningitis Trust.

The Trust's hotline is 0845 644 0184 to receive a registration pack and all the details that you need.

Ulster Star