The disease has led to amputations and had a devastating impact on her life. Sonia recounts her experience here and why she’s supporting our ‘Adults get it too’ campaign.
“The Sunday before I took ill, 3 July 2016, I went to work as usual. I was on a morning shift and left at 2.30pm, came home and cooked and ate dinner. I washed the dishes, did some housework and felt fine when I went to my bed that night.
“I woke up at about 11.50am the next morning with a horrible upset stomach and rushed to the bathroom where I vomited twice. I thought I just had an upset stomach and I went back into my bedroom. However, I still felt sick and I returned to the bathroom and vomited again. That horrible feeling was still hanging over me. Within 15 minutes I passed out. I was unconscious and on my own at home.
“My daughter Brittney was going on a school trip to Germany that Monday after school and my son Denzil, who had taken her and her luggage into school, did not come back home before he went to work.
Found me unconscious
“He finished working at 10pm that night. When he came in and found me unconscious he panicked and called my cousin and they called the ambulance. When the ambulance crew came they said that I had a raised temperature and low blood sugars.
“I was admitted to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, where a diagnosis of pneumococcal meningitis was made. I was admitted to critical care with multi-organ failure, septic shock and ischaemic digits. They put me into an induced coma to save my life, because the infection was spreading to my brain. Immediately I was put on antibiotics. I was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus while I was in hospital.
Called for my family
“Because of the condition I was in the doctors decided to call in my family and they had to send for my daughter to come back from Germany, because they thought I wasn't going to make it. My family also had to send for my eldest daughter Sherrian in Jamaica. It was a very rough and a traumatic time for all my family, especially my daughter coming from Jamaica to a new country. She didn't know if I was going to make it or not. When they woke me out of the coma I remember this man’s voice calling ‘Sonia, Sonia, Sonia, do you know where you are?’ And I opened my eyes and looked up and I could see the hospital curtains and I said ‘hospital’, but that’s all I can remember.
One of the lucky ones
“I had lost seven days out of my life and never knew what was happening around me. The doctor said if I had not been found when I was by my son – if he had not come home for another half an hour – I would be a dead person. I think I am one of the lucky ones to still be alive.
“When my daughter arrived I was out of the coma and in the HD unit. It was a very emotional time when she came to the hospital. Although I was the poorly one I was trying to be strong with a smiling face, but deep down inside me I thought that all hope was gone. I thought I had lost my independence and would have to depend on others for the rest of my life. I thought I’d lose my job and not be able to live in my home, because it would not be suitable enough to meet my needs.
“I was under the care of the plastic and vascular surgeons and had to be assisted by staff, family and friends to do all my daily activities. Being in hospital and watching my hands and feet change rapidly and my fingers starting to turn very black and stiff and to crack up and get sore and my feet become black and hard as a rock was very difficult.
Amputate to save my life
“There was nothing more the doctor could do than to amputate to save my life. This is a huge life- changing situation for me and my family – this trauma has torn my life apart. From being a healthy person one day and then waking up the next day hearing that I have been diagnosed with meningitis and I have to have my legs and fingers amputated is very devastating.
“When the doctor told me that I was going to lose my legs and I had to have them amputated it was a big shock for me – all of my body went numb and I began to cry. I refused at first and kept telling them that I was not ready yet. But I knew I had to make up my mind to consent and to sign the form.
“On 6 September 2016 fingers on my hands were amputated. On 3 November 2016 both my lower legs were amputated. All together, I spent five months and two weeks in hospital, moving from Queen’s to City Hospital.
Fought back and won
“But I have not let my illness overcome me. I fought back and I believe I have won, regardless of losing both my lower legs and my left hand fingers.
“After discharging from hospital in December, I started my physio at the mobility centre at the Nottingham City Hospital in January 2017. It was a very emotional time for me, seeing the new beginning and changes in my life. It was all very stressful and scary, but I learnt to adopt all those new changes.
“Having my legs cast and starting my physio and exercise to build up my muscles so I can gain the strength to be able to do my movements was a very challenging time for me, but with the help of the physio and my determination I coped and started to rebuild my future. I was very grateful to be with my family and friends, who have been so supportive to me, especially my daughters and my son. Family and friends never left me out, but without the help of the physio I doubt I would have got this far.
“I got my first prosthetic legs in February 2017 and, with the help of the physio, I began to do my steps and get motivated. I can now do short-distance walks with a walking stick and use my wheelchair when I’m going shopping. Many thanks to all the physios and the prosthetics team at the Nottingham Mobility Centre – I couldn't have done it without their skills. It was very painful while doing the exercises, but I coped with the pain and used my morphine painkiller before I went to the centre, because I knew in the end it would help me to go through the pain barrier and the challenge to complete my activities.
“What is most important to me right now is that I have a life and I can see my last daughter grow up and I am still here with my family. I can testify about where I have been, where I am now and where I intend to go. I am now doing things that I never thought I would do. I’m now learning to drive and learning to swim.
“I am forever thankful to God for sustaining me throughout the difficult moments leading up to my son’s discovery of me and thankful to my son, who in spite of the shock he was feeling did his best to get me the right help.
“I have come though this due to my Christian upbringing and my belief and faith in God has brought me though the tribulations. When I was in hospital I remember I was always playing this song by George Nook (Ride out the storm). I used to play it at least five times each day and it helped me in my ordeal very much.
Eradicate this disease
“My hope one day is that, through science and medicine, we will be able to eradicate this disease so that no one else has to go through such heartache and trauma. I would like to thank the ambulance crew for their quick response and all the professionals, the doctors, surgeons and nurses at Queen’s Intensives Care, for saving my life. The ongoing after-effects of this disease continue to have a huge impact on my everyday life. I’m grateful to Meningitis Now, who have supported me throughout this ordeal through their counselling and home visiting services.”