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Ashleigh D's story

31st March 2022

Student Ashleigh was 18 when she fell ill with a headache and what felt like a cold. She quickly became worse and only the quick thinking of her sister Sophie, taking her to A&E on the way home from university, saved her life from meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia

Ashleigh D's story

Ashleigh, from Bicester in Oxfordshire, tells her story.

“I was in my first year at university when one evening I started to get a headache. I thought I was probably getting a cold, but I wasn't worried, so I went out with my friends as planned.

“Within a couple of hours my behaviour had changed – I was agitated and emotional. This is one of the biggest things I tell people – it's not the physical symptoms that I remember the most, but my behaviour.

“That night, I was at a club with my friends but spent most of it sat down as I didn't feel right. I was in a mood. I left the club and remember crying outside it for what must have been 30 minutes, telling the security I didn't feel well and wanted to go home, but I didn't have enough money for a taxi on my own.

Just wanted my bed

“I was desperate for someone to help me and luckily two girls who were going to the same place as me got a taxi with me in the end. They noticed I was unwell and they even offered for me to stay at theirs, but I declined as I just wanted my bed.

“The next day I woke up, still with a headache, and assumed I was just hungover. As the day went on I really didn't feel right. It was a really sunny day and my friends and I were outside our halls on the grass, but I went inside for a nap. I phoned my mum to tell her I didn't feel well and was going to sleep for a bit, but I was crying and she knew something wasn't right. She spoke to my sister, who phoned me and asked if I wanted her to pick me up and take me home. I initially said no but eventually agreed and she came from Oxford to Bristol to get me.

“In the car home, my symptoms got worse very quickly. My head was so sore, I couldn't open my eyes, my neck stiffened, I was retching, and I just knew something was seriously wrong.

Sign for Swindon Hospital

“Just at the right time, my sister saw a sign for a hospital in Swindon (about halfway back to Oxford) and took me there.

“She jumped the queue in A&E and we got taken to a private waiting room. This is where my memory starts to go hazy. I remember struggling to breathe – I was taking big, laboured inhales. It then became too difficult for me to continue breathing so I just stopped as it felt like the easier option; my sister shook me and I came to and started breathing again, but it wasn't long before I stopped. My sister pressed the panic button and within seconds a team rushed in and carried me to resus.

“In resus I was connected to a bunch of wires, given oxygen and then I was in and out of lucidity, so I can't really tell you much of what happened after this, except for what I've been told. But I am told I became aggressive, so at this stage I was sedated and admitted to ITU for support with my breathing.

“During this time I was given a CT scan and a lumbar puncture, where it was confirmed I had MenB meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia. I had developed a rash on my legs, but not until I got to hospital. What most people don't realise is that a rash is not an early symptom – it's a symptom of septicaemia and if you have a rash, you are in the advanced stages of meningitis.

Blind, deaf or brain damaged

“My family was told there was a one in three chance that I would wake up blind, deaf or brain damaged. But fortunately I woke up two days later and the first thing I asked for in my dazed state was something to eat! Somehow, before I was even told, I knew I had meningitis.

“I was unable to walk when I woke up and it took me a few days to be able to get up out of bed by myself. I slept for most of the day. What I didn't realise at the time was that my brain was muddled as a result of the infection and would be for a few months. I just had no awareness of this until a family member asked my mum if I was making any sense yet a few weeks after I'd got home!

“I was in hospital for a week, being pumped with IV antibiotics and steroids every two hours through a cannula, and eventually got to go home, twice the size of my usual self, thanks to the steroids!

“The doctors at hospital said I was extremely lucky to be alive. Had my sister not thought to take me to hospital in Swindon, and instead carried on to Oxford, I would not have made it. Meningitis is such a rapidly developing disease and it is so important to have your symptoms checked as soon as possible if you are concerned.

“I am forever thankful for my family, and the doctors and nurses at Great Western Hospital in Swindon, for saving my life.”