We use necessary cookies that allow our site to work. We also set optional cookies that help us improve our website For more information about the types of cookies we use, visit our Cookies policy and manage your preferences.


Joanne's story

6th November 2015

Steve McCourt made the hardest decision of his life when wife, Joanne, 53, was put on life support after contracting bacterial meningitis on 27th January 2015

Joanne's story

He remembers the three days in which meningitis took her from him and their family.

“This is a dedication to my wife Joanne McCourt who died of meningitis.

“Before I tell you her story, I want to tell you a bit about who my beautiful wife was. Joanne was a very family orientated person and an amazing mother to her children; Michelle, Susan, Neil and Katie. She was a wonderful ‘Yaya’ to our 15 grandchildren who she loved to spoil at Christmas.

“Joanne was an Edinburgh lass through and through, and a bubbly, outgoing, loving person. She was strong willed and not afraid to stand up for what she believed in.

Day 1- Joanne could sleep for Britain

“On Tuesday morning Joanne finished work at a care home in Newton Aycliffe. She visited the doctors with an ear ache but didn’t have a temperature or anything so was sent home. Sometimes when she came home she didn’t want to talk, but you learnt to live with that, so I went to work.

“After my shift was finished I came home and Joanne was fast asleep, snoring her head off. I thought no more of it because she could sleep for 12 hours quite easy. I popped back out to pick up my brother and dropped him home before coming home myself.

“At about 8.40pm I had a shower and something to eat. I quietly snuck into the bedroom to get my trousers, trying not to disturb my wife. I left the room and was looking for my car keys when my mobile rang. It was from my wife’s phone.

“As I’d left her sleeping, I thought she had accidentally rolled over the phone while asleep. Then my step daughter, Susan, rang the landline saying that her Mum was having a panic attack in the bedroom so I ran back into the room and I found Joanne on the floor, complaining of pain in her hip.

“I helped her into bed and I checked her hip. There was no pain to the touch but she was complaining of a headache. I left the bedroom to get her some paracetemol and a cup of tea but by the time I came back she was fast asleep. This was typical of Joanne - she could sleep for Britain.

Race to hospital

“Two hours later I heard a loud noise coming from Joanne, a sound I will never forget.

“I went into the bedroom. She was unconscious but making such a terrible noise so I tried to awaken her by tapping her. She did not wake so, in a state of panic, I tried tapping her even harder. I rang 111 but the automated message was talking about Ebola, so I put the phone down and rang 999.

“The ambulance came and they blue lighted her to hospital. My thoughts turned to overnight things for Joanne - I know she would want these with her and wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t take them. It turns out I’d taken the wrong stuff anyway … typical man.

“I drove my car slowly to the hospital, a million thoughts going through my head about what was happening to my wife.

“I went straight to A & E and told the receptionist my name then sat down in the waiting room. I remember a guy had a broken finger. He was intoxicated and had hit some scaffolding. His pal was with him and I recall the nurse telling them that if his finger was broken it would need amputating. A bit of humour to lighten the mood.


“I went into the room where Joanne was and she was wired up to lots of machinery. I didn’t understand what was happening so went back to the waiting area and sat down.

“They took Joanne for a brain scan. This seemed to be okay, there was some swelling evident but nothing to worry about, or so they thought. But that night I heard the night duty doctor on the phone to intensive care, informing them that my wife had meningitis and required a bed.

“She needed fluid taking form her spine via a lumbar puncture. I knew then that she was in trouble."

Day 2 - They thought she would be okay, they had it under control

“When we went to intensive care I wasn’t allowed in with my wife so I waited until they had done what they needed to do. I stayed with her until they told me that no matter how long she slept - an hour, a day, a week or even a fortnight - she would be okay as they had it under control.

“I don’t blame the doctors and have no resentment towards them for wrongly thinking she would be okay.

“My wife slept through the night and I never left her side but when Wednesday came, the nurses told me I needed to take care of myself and get some food and sleep.

“I went home and got myself fed but as I led down on the couch the phone rang. It was a restricted number so I wouldn’t normally answer, but it rang again so I did. It was staff from Darlington Hospital. They informed me that my wife had an erratic heartbeat. We later discovered this was when we lost her.

“I rang my step daughter, Susan, and arranged to pick her up to go to the hospital. We went straight to my wife’s room. I kissed her, argued with her and kissed her again. I told her she would be alright. I thought she was able to answer me back.

“The machines kept making noises which prompted me to get the nurses but they reassured me that it was nothing to be concerned about. The machines were just monitoring her heart beat.

“Come Wednesday night, although I can’t be sure when it was as my head was all over the place, the doctor told me he had never seen such a bad case of swelling in anyone’s brain. I still had hope in my heart that she would be okay but deep down I knew she was already gone. It was only the machines keeping her alive. I knew my wife had already left, just her shell was there, but I still prayed that she would be okay.

Day 3 – Accepting she was gone

“On Thursday afternoon, a lovely Irish doctor came and looked at my wife’s pupils with his light. I asked him “is there any change?” and he said he was going to do something unusual. He took out something blue that looked like the end of a screw driver, then he took the little finger on her left hand and pressed the tool onto it. Then he pressed her brow.

“I was so angry and upset but I understood what he was doing and why. It was really hard to watch but he was trying to tell me that she was gone. This was the point it hit me, like a ton of bricks.

“On Thursday night didn’t take my eyes off the monitors. I was angry. I couldn’t accept that she was gone so I turned the screens away so I could no longer see them.

Hard decisions

“The doctors had to allow for the drugs to leave my wife’s body before carrying out a brain stem test on Friday. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be invited to go into the room whilst a brain stem test is being conducted, don’t.

“After the brain scan, the Irish doctor told me that my wife had died on Wednesday at 2:00pm. This was when her brain touched her skull and could swell no more. It was official. My wife had gone and there was no more hope.

“We were taken into a side room, me first because I was her husband - Joanne actually did the proposing on the 29th of February 2012. We had been together in total for 10 years.

“The doctor was asking if I wanted Joanne to be an organ donor. I borrowed Joanne for the best 10 years of my life but felt this was not my decision to make so asked her kids, starting with Michelle. If she said no then that was it, but if she said yes I would go on to ask Susan, Neil and Katie. But Michelle said no. At the time I thought this was a blessing. I was pleased because I didn’t want anyone to touch or take away any part of my wife.

“I then had to make the hardest decision of my life. Her kids stood before me, their hearts breaking and it was down to me to give consent to switch the machines off. I knew once the life support was turned off that would be it.

“The decision was reluctantly made. I was devastated. It was my wife and I wanted her with me. Her children were crying and I wanted their hurt to stop. I wanted their mum to be there for them. But the life support was turned off and my wife was gone.


“24 hours later I was talking to my step children and we all wished that the hospital had discussed my wife being an organ donor earlier.

“When they asked us about the donation process, I wasn’t thinking rationally. Had it been mentioned earlier, or, if we had seen posters or leaflets about the importance of organ donation, it would have given us more opportunity to think about it. I undoubtedly believe we would have agreed for my wife’s organs to be used and help save lives.

“If someone had been given my wife’s heart they would be walking around with a big, lovely heart because that was my Joanne; a big hearted, beautiful woman both inside and out.

“I appreciate everything done by the staff who looked after my wife and cared so thoughtfully for me and my family at such a hard time. I would like to thank them sincerely. I would also urge people to register as organ donors as I will be doing. If you are as unfortunate as I and have to make that decision about a loved one, then please let your answer be yes. Don’t have regrets, as I have, at losing an opportunity to have my wife live on in someone else by doing a wonderful thing.

Donate to Joanne's Forever Fund