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Jemma's story

29th July 2015

Jemma, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, was a 19-year-old student building her future when she was laid low by the menY strain of meningitis

Jemma's story

Now, nearly two years later and after the best part of a year in hospital, her future is beginning to look hopeful again. She tells her story here:

“I was 19 and in my second year studying law at the University of Leicester. I was attending all my lectures and getting on with day-to-day life.

On Monday 14th October I saw a doctor as my glands were swollen and I felt generally unwell. The doctor took blood to try and identify it as, at that point, she thought it could be mumps and she advised I go home for a week to rest.

So, my mum picked me up that evening and I spent the rest of that week resting.

On the 18th October I started to have a headache but when I woke up on the 19th October it had worsened. I had severe pain in the back of my head and kept being sick. Other symptoms included a stiff neck, photophobia, and I felt faint.

My mum rang 111 and I spoke to a doctor who advised I go to A&E. I was rushed to A&E, still with severe pain in the back of my head and kept drifting in and out of consciousness."

Emergency brain surgery

“The consultants took the decision it would be safer if I was sedated. I was sent for a CT scan to try and identify the problem. The results showed I had severe swelling in the outer and inner lining of my brain and I was rushed to Southampton General for emergency brain surgery, during which they put a shunt in my brain.

They sent the fluid for testing to try and find the cause and they found I had meningitis strain Y and encephalitis.

I was sedated for three weeks while the swelling went down. When I gradually woke up I was very confused and didn’t know or understand what was happening. I was dependent on a ventilator and couldn’t move anything.

Gradually I started to understand. I started to move my right arm but was still dependent on a ventilator. I spent three and a half months in intensive care, with the movement in my right side gradually getting stronger; the movement in my left side came back a lot slower.

On 20th February 2014 I moved to a neuro rehab unit to receive one-to-one physiotherapy. I spent eight months there and although I was getting stronger and making progress it was very slow and I was wheelchair dependant."

My whole life turned upside down

“I came home on the 13th October 2014 after spending nearly a year in hospital.

My whole life has been turned upside down and even though I'm practising walking and getting stronger, which is exciting, building up my muscles is still a slow process, especially as my left side is still significantly weaker. This results in my being dependant on people to help me if I need assistance.

It's just one of those things that you see on the news or hear stories about, but you never think it will happen to you, especially when I was at university building my future.

But the future is beginning to look hopeful again. I have begun physio and have started counselling with the help of Meningitis Now. I feel this will help me to come to terms with the things I have experienced and allow me to get myself back to normal life. Even though the road to recovery is long I am making progress every day with the support of my family and friends.

Awareness in students

“I found it important to share my story so that other people my age starting out in life are aware that meningitis is not something that just affects children - it is just as common in older people, especially when starting university.

I feel awareness of the symptoms and an understanding will give people a greater chance of spotting the signs and taking the relevant steps to ensure the best possible outcome.

My Meningitis Now regional support officer checks up on me regularly. They've funded counselling to help me come to terms with what's happened and they've provided me with a grant to start horse riding therapy for the disabled.”

Teenagers and young people remain an at-risk group of contracting meningitis and septicaemia.