Jennifer tells us about the impact of living with a brother who had meningitis and the great experiences they’ve both enjoyed through our Believe & Achieve programme.
“I was born on 1 August 2004. Following a series of unimportant milestones for me but hugely transformative events in the life of my parents, my brother Jack was born on 3 November 2007.
“We lived our lives in relative normality for a time, although how normal can you be with a new-born in the house? Then a shocking surprise (well, maybe not that shocking if you are reading this on the Meningitis Now Believe & Achieve site).
“My brother got sick. My Dad will tell the story at the drop of a hat about how my Momma immediately knew something was wrong and after a call to the Out of Hours doctors he was brought to Craigavon Hospital. I was passed around many different relatives - extended families are awesome - until my Dad came and brought me to McDonald's for tea, a rare treat, to tell me my brother needed to stay in the hospital because he was unwell.
“Here's where our story really ramps into gear. After a day that deserves a story of its own, Jack was diagnosed with Group B streptococcal meningitis as well as multiple strokes.
Never walk, talk or behave like normal
“Doctors warned my parents that the damage caused in Jack's brain and body could mean that he may never walk, talk or behave like a normal child.
“Jack though had other ideas. He decided he would walk, after many hours spent with physical therapy. And talk. Although our family is well versed in the speech therapy methods currently in fashion, Jack was used to test a few trainee speech therapists because, despite his issues, his demeanour meant he was open to talking with new people!
“In many ways he is not your average kid. I would say he is a million times better – not that I'm biased or anything!
Life as a sister is certainly unusual
“I could write lots more pages about Jack. However, I want to focus more on my personal experience. I would emphasise that my life isn't any different from that of an ordinary teenage girl – school, clothes, music and reading are my hobbies. But I now know that my life as a sister is certainly unusual. I look at my friends and classmates and know that their sibling didn't live in the hospital for their first Christmas; or that they had to go to speech therapy and occupational therapy; or go to get their flu jab every year – something their grandparents get, not their siblings.
“I also know for a fact that none of my friends or classmates have taught their sibling how to stay still during an MRI. But I have been lucky. Jack and I have developed a bond that most siblings I know just don't have.
“Living with someone like Jack, who has survived meningitis, isn't difficult or a struggle. At least that's my opinion. Yes, Jack needs help with his schoolwork, but that is something I'm happy to help with when I can, and honestly even sometimes when I can't. But thanks to my parents I am blessed with a pretty good work ethic, so I can make up the time I spend on his work.
“One thing it’s important to understand is that Jack is a wonderful person. He doesn't judge people, he's kind and will assist people in any way he can. And you can't help but become a better person when you're with him. There are areas where he struggles but he knows his limits and works to improve them constantly and I'm ready to improve with him.
“With Jack we've been able to have great experiences with Meningitis Now. I have enjoyed being a part of Believe & Achieve, seeing people who have also been affected by meningitis. Yet that's not the focus of the activities, the point is to enjoy yourself and the company of others. And that's something I love being part of.
“Lastly, I find it interesting that I want to delve into a career in medicine. Is my interest in medicine deeply rooted by the struggle Jack went through as a baby? Who knows? Perhaps I've discovered that by helping Jack I've discovered that I love to help people and medicine is one pathway that allows me to continue that caring attitude.”