Mother of two children who survived meningitis hopes for free vaccine soon
“Now I think how lucky we are to have two children who survived it fully”
Denise and James Brady with their son Ryan (14) and daughter Sarah Anne (7) who both recovered from meningitis. Photograph: Seamus Farrelly
It is every parent’s nightmare but for Denise and James Brady, that nightmare came true not once, but twice when meningitis hit both their babies.
They watched as their tiny son was given the last rites for the meningitis B strain - the vaccine for which is only available free to children born after October 2016.
At present the vaccine for the meningitis C strain is freely available to all children but parents of those born before October 2016 have to pay up to €300 per child for the meningitis B shots.
Thousands of people have signed an online petition calling on Minister for Heath Simon Harris to implement a catch-up programme for all children and teens in light of 11 cases of the disease in recent weeks.
Three of the 11 have died and while the particular strain of meningitis diagnosed in recent cases has not been disclosed the Department of Health said no deaths had occurred recently that could be attributed to meningitis B.
In October 2004, the Bradys from Rathoath, Co Meath, were revelling in becoming new parents to one-month premature baby Ryan who was suffering from colic and acid reflux.
“He cried a lot anyway because of the reflux but this day, he was crying even more, nodding off and not feeding well,” his mother said.
He had a temperature and she gave him calpol. “He developed a high pitched cry that night so the doctor told us to take him to Temple Street the next morning, despite him not really having any of the signs of meningitis.
“However he went downhill rapidly on the way there and a lumbar puncture in hospital confirmed our worst fears of meningoccal meningitis.”
She said he was placed on antibiotics straight away and a priest came to give him the last rites.
“Thankfully, his recovery kicked in on day three and after a long stay in hospital, he was able to come home with no side effects. He’s now 14 and while he has no recollection of it, we have filled him in on events.”
On March 11th 2011, the couple welcomed their much sought-after daughter Sarah Ann. But devastation was again to strike the household when the new arrival became ill at just ten weeks old.
She developed a temperature. “I rang the VHI nurse helpline. I knew, I just knew and as the nurse was asking me questions, I was already packing a bag for Temple Street.
“Again a lumbar puncture confirmed she had meningitis and she was started on a generic antibiotic right away. Luckily, she was caught early so tests to determine the strain of meningitis came back inconclusive.
“I was told that I might be a carrier of the bacteria in the back of my nose or throat, which emerge as droplets when you sneeze or when you kiss anyone with low immunity.”
Sarah Ann made a full recovery and now, at age seven, is living life to the full.
“I’d just say to any mum - follow that mother’s instinct. Don’t doubt yourself and get your child to the hospital as soon as you can. Every second counts with this disease.
“Hopefully the vaccine will be provided by the State sooner rather than later but in the meantime, I absolutely would encourage every parent to explore the option of getting the vaccine. It could save the lives of their loved ones.”
She adds: “I used to think that we were so unlucky to be hit twice with meningitis but now I think how lucky we are to have two children who survived it fully, without losing any limbs.”
The Department of Health has said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has not recommended a catch-up programme for children born before October 2016. The majority of cases of meningitis B are seen in children less than one year old, it said.
“The assessment of which vaccines should be included in the childhood immunisation programme and which age groups they should be allocated to is based upon the best medical evidence available, which is subject to ongoing review,” the Department added.