Jemma’s experience

23rd October 2015

Jemma was in her second year at university, studying for a degree in Law when she contracted meningococcal group Y meningitis and encephalitis

After attending all her normal lectures, 19-year-old Jemma began to feel unwell. She was suffering from swollen glands so visited her GP. 

Jemma was told it could be mumps and was sent home to rest, but her symptoms soon deteriorated.

Jemma developed a number of common symptoms, including a headache, sickness, a stiff neck, photophobia and feeling faint. She was in severe pain, drifting in and out of consciousness and rushed to A & E. She spent the next year of her life in hospital.

We spoke to Jemma about her hospital experience:

“The consultants decided it would be safer if I was sedated. I was sent for a CT scan and the results showed I had severe swelling in my brain. I was rushed to Southampton General for emergency brain surgery and they put a shunt in my brain.”

"Fluid from my brain was sent for testing and they identified that I had meningitis strain Y and encephalitis.”

“I was sedated for three weeks while the swelling went down. When I woke up I was very confused and didn’t know what was happening. I was dependent on a ventilator and couldn’t move anything.”

“I spent three and a half months in intensive care, with the movement in my right side gradually getting stronger but the movement in my left side came back much slower.”

“I was then moved to a neuro rehab unit for one-to-one physiotherapy. I spent eight months there and although I was getting stronger and making progress, it was very slow and I was wheelchair dependent.”

Jemma was eventually allowed home in October 2014, nearly a year after contracting meningitis but her whole life had changed. She had to re-learn how to walk, building up her muscles and gradually getting stronger. Her future is starting to look bright again, although recovery has been a very long process and her muscles are still significantly weaker than they were.

Jemma had the following advice for students:

“Contracting meningitis is something you think will never happen to you, especially when you’re at university building a future.”

“I found it important to share my story so that other people my age are aware that meningitis is not something that just affects children - it is common in older people, especially when starting university."

“More awareness of the symptoms and an understanding of the disease will give people a greater chance of spotting the signs and taking the relevant steps to ensure the best possible outcome.”

“Meningitis Now have helped tremendously, assigning me a support officer who visits me regularly, funded counselling to help me come to terms with what's happened and they've provided me with a grant to start horse riding therapy for the disabled.”