Abigail H's story

22nd April 2019

Abigail Harris was just 23, enjoying her new life in Worcestershire, happy and healthy. Until she contracted meningitis

Abigail H bacterial meningitis case study

Loving aunt Fiona Scarlett from Epsom tells us the heart-breaking story of what happened to her niece, who very sadly passed away in March.

“Abi was a beautiful girl, inside and out. She was vibrant, full of life and laughter, always smiling, always happy to be with her friends and family, chatty and friendly. She never complained, or if she did, she’d finish the sentence with, “But I’m ok”!"

“I’m her aunt and we were close. She was the first child of my twin brother, she held a special place. As she grew up we’d communicate through texts, Facebook and messenger and when we met up (I lived in Surrey while she was in Gloucestershire and lately Worcestershire) we would catch up with everything going on in her life, go shopping or to the cinema or for a meal. She had grown up with my boys and her other cousins and was adored by them for her fun nature and leadership of the little gang."

“Abi had been struggling to get rid of cough or a cold symptoms since the autumn of 2018. She had changed her job and moved up to Kidderminster to move in with her boyfriend. She seemed permanently a little “under the weather”. But still she didn’t complain."

“On 27 March 2019, I called her to ask her opinion on a car (she used to work at Ford). We talked for a short while and she sounded like she had a cold again which I commented on. She said she’d had a cold for a few days and was off work as she felt rubbish but said, “Oh, I’ll be ok” as she normally did."

“She also told me she had been to a Minor Injuries Unit because her wrist had been so painful over the last two days – although she hadn’t injured it, she could hardly move it. She was diagnosed with tendinitis and advised to keep it rested, ice packs etc and I told her I’d send her some exercises/self care info."

Said our goodbyes

“I told her to look after herself and we said our goodbyes. Later that evening at 9.30pm, she started messaging me on messenger (I work as a paramedic practitioner and she’d often ask my opinion on various symptoms). She said she had pain in her chest when breathing and asked if I had any tips."

“I found this a strange way to talk and asked her a few more questions - if you’re having difficulty with breathing you wouldn’t want tips I felt, so didn’t think it was that bad (painful chest from coughing?). She did say she had stomach pain and had vomited (gastric bug?). She complained of painful legs (DVT? Sepsis?). She didn’t mention headache, stiff neck, photophobia, any of the classic signs."

“She worried me when she texted that she felt scared. She said she had no reason to feel scared but that concerned me. She said she couldn’t drive due to her wrist hurting so I told her to get her boyfriend Kieron to take her, but she hadn’t told him how bad she felt and he’d gone to bed. She didn’t want to bother him."

“I told her I couldn’t assess her over the phone and that if she was worried she should go to hospital (three times in total in the conversation). If she didn’t want to go to hospital she should call 111 but she said she’d called them earlier in the day."

“I asked her to tell me what her temperature and her pulse was but she was unable to do that. I ended our chat by saying she sounded very run down and that she should wake Kieron and go to hospital. She said she’d try to go to sleep. We left it there."

“I wish I’d spoken to her or video chatted with her so I could have seen what she looked like and made a better decision, but the time for that has passed. The next morning, Thursday 28 March, I sent a message, as I would normally if we’d chatted and she wasn’t well, asking how she was and hoping she felt better. I had no response."

Rushed into hospital

“My brother, Abi’s dad, called me a short while later to say she’d been rushed into hospital by ambulance after being found at 4am fitting and not responding by her boyfriend. She was being cared for in ITU, intubated and still not responding. A rash had appeared on the inside of one of her knees. She was being treated for meningitis. This was such a shock. It hadn’t even occurred to me as we don’t hear about it so much anymore. Sepsis, yes, but not meningitis."

“Abi did not improve with antibiotics, she was receiving expert care and it was becoming clear that things were not looking good for our girl. We kept hoping."

“As the day progressed, the doctors started to prepare Abi’s mum, dad, brother and her boyfriend for the worst news. On Friday 29 March, with all her close family and best friends nearby, Abi was declared brain dead. The next day and as per her wishes, she donated her organs to save others and she was finally allowed to rest."

“It wasn’t until after her diagnosis we collected all the symptoms she had mentioned to different people and saw that the picture fitted. She had spoken to her mum in the evening on Wednesday 27 by phone while she was sitting watching TV (a normal thing to be doing) and had described feeling scared again apparently for no reason, she also told about the headache, vomiting and feeling so achy."

“It appeared to be a viral illness as she’d had lots of coughs and colds on the months prior to contracting meningitis. She had texted her dad earlier on the Wednesday about headaches, pain in her neck and feeling like she had flu but the symptoms were vague. Easy with hindsight to know what was causing the symptoms, not so much with the knowledge she’d had cold symptoms on and off for months. Abi had contracted MenC, which developed so rapidly."

“Abi had had MenC vaccinations as a baby and pre-school but had been in the wrong age bracket for vaccination with the ACWY vaccine, too old for the year 9/10 schedule and in year 2 of university. She (and we) were unaware it was available up to age 25 from the GP.  She had always had all vaccinations that had been advised, according to the schedules. It is devastating to know that had she been vaccinated, we would likely still have our gorgeous girl with us, fulfilling her dreams of marriage, her own family and a home with Kieron.”

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