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Cathy T's story

11th May 2017

Cathy was on her way back home to Cambodia when she became ill. She was given just a 20% chance of survival but great treatment and wider community support helped her pull through. It has however been a life-changing experience for the 58-year-old, prompting a move back to the UK and a new life in Whitland, West Wales as she continues her recovery. Husband Kevin tells their story

Cathy T's story

“We were sitting at Heathrow Airport returning to our home in Cambodia when my wife Catherine's nose suddenly started pouring.

By the time we arrived back in Phnom Penh she had what we thought was a heavy cold or flu.

“The following morning she was much the same but also vomiting. For the first time in a very long time she decided not to go to work. This should have made me realise that she was very ill.

“Two days later on 7 October 2016, in the very early hours of the morning, Cathy started screaming at me that she was dying and to get her to hospital. I rushed her to the best hospital I knew of in Phnom Penh, the Royal Phnom Hospital. They immediately examined her and admitted her, believing initially that it was probably influenza.

Organs shutting down

“Within a couple of hours of her admission she started fitting and was rushed in to ICU, where she was examined by a number of specialists. They were very worried as all of her organs appeared to be shutting down.

“The neurologist, a lovely man called Dr Padungtham, quickly recognised that the issue was being caused by her brain. He immediately sedated her into an induced coma, carried out a CT scan and lumbar puncture. Within two hours it had been confirmed that Cathy had bacterial meningitis.

“Another specialist from Thailand was called in and he identified the strain as streptococcus pneumoniae. He told us that although this wasn't the worst type it was particularly advanced and it was the most severe case he had ever seen.

“Cathy was on full life support and, as we were to find out later, was given a 20% chance of survival. Two of our three sons flew over from the UK; the third remained in the UK to be a support to the rest of the family.

Blood transfusion plea

“On day three, Cathy urgently required a blood transfusion. Unfortunately the Cambodian Blood Transfusion Service had no blood so I put out a plea for anyone with A+ blood via my friends and colleagues in Phnom Penh.

“The plea went viral and we ended up with about 60 people giving blood from all different nationalities, religions and social backgrounds. It gave me and the boys a massive boost and focused us on the good in people around the world, despite everything you hear in the news.

“Furthermore, our workplace, a factory making clothes for the UK market, employing 5,500 people was stopping every morning to say prayers for Cathy - all religions pulling together and praying together.

“The blood transfusion was successful and within a couple of days the doctor came bouncing up to us and said that Cathy was over the worst. Although still critical she was finally stable. Medically Cathy improved daily and after 21 days she finally opened her eyes for the first time, although it took a few weeks for her to become lucid and understand her predicament.

Would not have made it

“Cathy spent a total of 95 days on ICU and finally, just into the New Year, she was put up on a ward, not that the ward resembled anything we had previously known, it was more like a 5 star hotel room - the advantages of being insured and getting private care. Had we not had insurance, being in Cambodia, Cathy would certainly not have made it!

“At the end of January, Cathy was cleared to be able to fly back to the UK. By this time we knew that our future had to be back in the UK. After over 16 years on and off working and living abroad we knew that going forward we needed the support of our family. Cathy initially went in to care in Newport, Gwent to undertake rehab. At this time she couldn't stand, without being lifted, had no control of her bowels and was catheterised.

“Cathy had fabulous care in Newport and developed very quickly. She was discharged on 28 April this year with full control of her bowels and bladder, the ability to walk short distances with a frame and mentally in a good place. She has moments of confusion, sometimes lacks confidence and has issues with her short-term memory - all things that one would expect after such a trauma.

Unbelievable support

“We are now resettling in to our home in West Wales and have plans to start our own business, which will be centred around our garment industry experiences. The support we had from the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital and The Priory Mount Eveswell Care Home in Newport was unbelievable; we will always be indebted to all of the staff.

“In addition Cathy got the most amazing support from many people around the world, old friends, new friends and many people we never knew who followed her story on a daily blog I wrote on Facebook. I had only started this to stop lots of people pestering me every day for updates. In the end the love and support we got gave me and the boys so much positive energy that we have always been able to remain positive around Cathy.

Bright future ahead

“Cathy's story is still ongoing but the important thing from our point of view is that we are all back together and have a bright future ahead. I was totally ignorant of meningitis before this happened, but also found support through reading many of the stories on Meningitis Now’s website. Cathy and I will do whatever we can in the future to ensure everyone is aware of the symptoms and the vaccines that are available.

“I hope that in some small way we have already started this through the thousands who followed Cathy's story as it unfolded on Facebook.”