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Graham F’s story

22nd January 2017

Nicola’s dad Graham contracted meningitis and septicaemia in January 15 years ago. It left him with life-changing after-effects. She recounts their story here

Graham F’s story

"Fifteen years ago my dad contracted meningitis and septicaemia. He was 60 years old.

“The evening before he just felt like he was coming down with a cold. He had come to meet me for lunch the day before at work and I remember watching him walk back to his car and I went back to my office.

“Within six hours of being admitted to hospital, dad was on full life support and in a coma. The machine was breathing for him, his kidneys had failed and he was on dialysis. I had never seen as many machines stacked with drugs. The doctors told us to expect dad would be severely brain damaged (they talked of a 98% chance of brain damage) and that if he survived, he would be likely to lose both his legs.

Opened his eyes

“Two weeks later, against literally all the odds, when my sister Andy and I were sitting with him late one evening, dad came round. The doctor had spoken to my sister and me the evening before to say they were considering switching off his life support because there was no hope. The doctor on duty that night was so stunned and he did not believe us that dad had opened his eyes and tried to mouth ‘I love you’.

“We both knew what we had seen and in that moment we also knew his brain was as sharp as it had always been.

“For the next eight weeks or so dad was in intensive care and I can just remember him hallucinating from the drugs and unable to drink, eat, sit up or move. We would visit and just sit for hours, whole weekends would go by and dad was so tired and weak, he couldn’t speak a single word. His weight had dropped to six stone and they started to feed him with a peg into his stomach. He went on to spend three years in hospital.

Eleven separate operations

“The doctors tried to save his legs a day at a time. He tried everything that was suggested. Anything to repair the damaged tissue. Over the next three years he underwent ten separate amputations losing most of his fingers and eventually in various operations both of his legs – above the knee. They couldn’t save any muscle and so wearing prosthetics wasn’t an option. He had already had an earlier operation because the meningitis had damaged his spleen and we had to give consent for this as he wasn't able to do so.

“It crucified my dad that he would never walk again because he had always been so fit and a good golfer, swimmer and rugby player. When he eventually got home the after-effects of the disease continued. He felt like his legs were still there and used to scream in pain. We used to massage his hands in rice to try and desensitise what was left of his fingers as the pain was so bad. When you lose both legs so high up, like dad did, you lose all balance, so he had to wear weights attached to the stumps he had left at first to make sure he even could sit up.

Incredible strength of mind

“His strength of mind was incredible. I cannot tell you. I won’t pretend there weren’t bad days because there were many. But overall mentally he was strong and razor sharp. We tried to rebuild some sort of life for him but as an active man and one who had run his own business for years, it was a lot to take.

“But he managed to meet his two beautiful granddaughters. He loved to hear about our careers and challenges and gave us the best advice. He only left the house a small handful of times in the next 10 years and he married my stepmother in a ceremony at home. When he did leave the house we had to inject him for the pain.

“Two years ago my dad died in the same hospital where he had spent so much time. As he was on end of life care we were visited by staff who remembered the ‘famous’ Mr Frost who had been their longest resident and whose case they used in the teaching of medical students. It was strangely comforting. A vaccine existed at the time for the type of meningitis dad had. Check your vaccinations and don’t let your children miss any. And pay for the MenB vaccine if you have to.”