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Matt B's story

2nd May 2023

The first time Matt Barrow, from Perranporth in Cornwall, contracted meningitis he thought his symptoms were caused by the painkillers he was taking following dental treatment

Matt B's story

Thankfully, he recovered. But lightning struck twice and four years later he contracted the disease again. Wife Emma recounts their dramatic story.

“Matt first contracted bacterial meningitis at the end of April 2010. He had returned from the dentist after having a root canal filling done, so was having painkillers and had a bad toothache. We went to bed, with him complaining about his tooth but other than that everything was normal.

I woke at about 2am after hearing him being sick. He came back to the bedroom and I asked him if he'd taken too many painkillers? He said he thought maybe he had. That was the last coherent thing he said to me. It was that quick.

I thought 'Oh my god, he has overdosed on pain killers!' so called the NHS helpline. They asked to speak to Matt. Only 15 minutes had passed and he could barely walk, let alone talk. He didn't know his name or date of birth. He dropped the phone to go and be sick again and the NHS operator told me to call an ambulance immediately.

Upon arrival at the hospital (which was only about 25 minutes away - no flashing lights - none of us suspected meningitis) Matt was a stranger. He didn't know me, didn't know where he was, was yelling and screaming and thrashing around. It took two big hospital security guys to hold him down while the doctor tried to examine him."

The worst days of my life

“We were all still concentrating on a possible accidental overdose. But the doctors couldn't figure out his behaviour. I got asked all kinds of questions, such as does he take drugs, does he have frequent psychotic episodes? Eventually, I was asked why was he taking painkillers? I said because of his tooth. Within minutes they figured out it was an infection and then meningitis was diagnosed.

Matt was put in an induced coma and was in critical care for five days. Needless to say, these were the worst days of my life. We were due to get married in six months.

After three days they woke him up. Amazingly, the only after effect was deafness in one ear. Matt struggled for a few days after being woken up, having awful hallucinations and generally feeling unwell.

After 10 days he was allowed to come home. Six months later we were married and our first daughter, Ellie, was born the following year. The doctors told us the chances of contracting meningitis again were pretty slim and put it down to bad luck or possible infection from the tooth.

Life went on and we had a second daughter, Francesca, in 2013. In August 2014, we were at my brother's wedding. We had a brilliant time but the next day we had a five hour car journey back to Cornwall and Matt started to feel unwell. Being in a celebratory mood the night before we actually assumed it was a very bad hangover."

Getting worse and worse

“Luckily I was driving, because as the journey went on, Matt got worse and worse. We had to pull over about four or five times for him to be sick. I noticed he was shaking from head to toe. He couldn't look at anything because it hurt his eyes too much.

We got to about 40 minutes from home (it was the journey from hell!) and Matt said he thought he needed to go to hospital.

I floored it all the way. I kept asking him questions, like what is your date or birth and what day is it? He was answering them perfectly. It wasn't until he tried to get out of the car when we arrived at A&E that I knew exactly what it was - he had meningitis again. He could barely walk, couldn't get his shoes on properly and didn't really know where he was.

I think even the doctors didn't quite believe me when I said it was meningitis again. They suspected a blood clot on the brain. He was rushed to critical care and put in an induced coma again. I was told he was very sick and he was given a 50/50 chance of survival. They then confirmed it was exactly the same meningitis as last time, but they also still suspected a blood clot too."

How is he going to beat it again?

“It was almost worse this time around because we had the children, and I kept thinking how is he going to beat it again?

Well he did! They confirmed no blood clot, two days in a coma, nine days in critical care, and amazingly no permanent effects this time.

They decided to investigate why this would happen to him again. It turns out that part of his cerebral wall had collapsed, so his cerebral fluid was leaking (although he had no symptoms of this). He had an operation very recently to fix this and doctors are confident this was the cause of his meningitis.

He has also been vaccinated and we paid to have our girls vaccinated against meningitis B. So, fingers crossed, this is the end to our meningitis nightmare.

We found out about Meningitis Now through the website. It was good to have somewhere to read about other stories and the help available. When we wanted to get our children privately vaccinated for meningitis B, you guys made it all possible by sending me everything I needed to give my GP.”