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Gemma's story

1st July 2009

Gemma hit the headlines in July 2009 when she almost died from meningitis after doctors misdiagnosed it as swine flu. She faced a real battle to get the correct treatment. With a life-support machine keeping her alive

Gemma's story

"I had been feeling ill for a number of days when I was diagnosed with swine flu over the phone.

My parents Dawn and Kevin were told to come and collect the Tamiflu tablets.

The next day I collapsed on the kitchen floor and I couldn't breathe. My dad rang 999 for an ambulance but they refused to send one because they thought it was only swine flu so an emergency doctor came to my home. He was all geared up with overalls and a mask on and confirmed I had swine flu.

Later that night my headache became unbearable. I had never felt pain so bad in my life and that is why I followed my instincts and rang 999. I lied and told them I had taken an overdose of paracetamol. It was a last resort and I felt it was the only way I would be taken to hospital and checked properly.

An ambulance came but the paramedics didn't act very professionally. I could barely walk as I was really weak because I had not eaten for days. I was sat at the bottom of the stairs and I had sick all down my top so my mum went to get me a clean top. I couldn't even dress myself or put my shoes on; my mum had to do it for me. The paramedics were in the kitchen with their arms folded saying "come on Gemma, if you're coming!

I was taken to Chesterfield Royal Hospital but only spent just over two hours there before being discharged. I was sent to a room where a nurse/doctor came, but they too presumed it was swine flu and had a mask on. I don't remember any observations being taken. I kept wandering off down the corridor and I was getting extremely confused. I kept trying to find a doctor but was told they would see me in a bit.

I was later discharged in the early hours at 3.30am. I wasn't asked how I was getting home. My dad came to pick me up and found me collapsed on the pavement outside A&E.

When I was back at home, I couldn't get out of bed and I was vomiting violently. The next day my mum came in my room and asked if I was feeling any better and I could barely shake my head. My mum rang NHS Direct and they asked her to see if I could do simple things and I did not respond. They sent a paramedic and an ambulance out; the paramedic said that I didn't have swine flu and that he was concerned.

I was taken back to Chesterfield Royal Hospital where they discovered it was meningitis. The next day I was transferred to Rotherham District Hospital on a life support machine.

Thankfully I've made a steady recovery. I've only been out of hospital a couple of weeks but now see life in a different light. I have still got to go back to Rotherham District Hospital for occupational therapy because my memory and concentration levels have been affected, and I need physiotherapy classes because I had to learn to walk again. I lost my voice for about six weeks, and couldn't laugh or shout, due to being ventilated in intensive care, so I now need a camera to be put down my throat to make sure no damage has been caused to my voice box.

What has happened to me over the summer is something I will never forget and is an experience I would not wish on anyone.

I'm about to return to my second year of studying A-Levels and at school we have a charity committee and I am going to get involved in fundraising. And in October, my friends and I are taking part in the Bay to Bognor sponsored walk.

I feel extremely lucky to be alive, never mind still have all my limbs and not have any brain damage, which is why I'm really determined to raise awareness and money towards helping Meningitis Now find a vaccine to eliminate the disease."