Ian K's story

24th February 2021

Ian contracted meningococcal meningitis shortly before his third birthday and sadly died soon afterwards, leaving his young parents devastated. This was 1974 when the medical landscape was quite different to today

Ian's meningococcal bacterial meningitis case study

It has left them feeling at a loss, but to mark what would have been Ian's 50th birthday, Vera and her husband Rob are taking on a 50-mile walk to raise funds for us. The walk will finish on 14 March, Ian's birthday. Vera, from Prenton, Wirral, tells their sad story. 

"Our only son Ian was born on the 14th March 1971.

“Around the 5th March 1974 Ian contracted meningitis. He had a headache, shivering and temperature, and later a rash developed.

"We didn't know what it was at the time as we had never heard of the disease. We rang the doctor to request a home visit but were told to take Ian to the surgery. Ian was too unwell and it was cold and as the doctor had refused to come out I had to go to the surgery for a prescription. 

“I reluctantly went to the surgery without Ian and advised the doctor Ian had a temperature, a rash and a headache. I was told it was a virus and the spots were normal and was given a prescription for antibiotics.

“By the time I had gotten home with the prescription Ian had deteriorated further. I tried ringing back to the doctor but could not get through (we were later told the doctor's phone line was down). 

“On the advice of a neighbour we took Ian to hospital. A few hours later Ian was put on a respirator. Ian died eight days later on the 13th March 1974, the day before his third birthday. 

Things were very different then

“Things were vastly different in 1974. We were not allowed to sleep or stay in the room with our son but had to take it in turns throughout the night to sit in a chair by his bedside. On the day Ian died we were asked to leave the room while the doctor completed an assessment of Ian. Around 30 minutes later we were called into the an office where a nurse (not the doctor) informed us that there had been no sign of life and that the decision had been taken to switch of Ian's life support machine. 

“Only a nurse and a doctor had been in the room with our son, our baby, when he died. By the time we had received the news about Ian's life support being switched off our son had been dead for over 10 minutes. We have never gotten over not being allowed to be with our son when he died and we never will. 

Never given or offered support

“We were never given or offered support after the death of our son. Our son died and that was it. Everything seemed so clinical and in the same breath telling us our son’s life support had been switched off we were asked if we would allow a post mortem. We gave permission but I think at the time we were in shock and just nodded in agreement, as we were not taking things in. Looking back now it seems crazy that we were not asked permission about our son's life support but asked permission for a post-mortem!

“Looking back we were treated very badly but that is how things were back then. Doctors knew best or at least that is how they portrayed themselves. 

Milestone birthday walk

“This year, in memory of Ian and what would have been a milestone birthday for him, my husband and I are walking 50 miles over 14 days, finishing on Ian's birthday. We have asked family and friends for donations, all of which will go to Meningitis Now.

“Family life carries on, but it's a very different life. There will always be a void in our lives that can never be filled. We have three daughters but we should have three daughters and a son. When a child dies your hopes, dreams, ambitions and future for your child dies too. You are no longer able to make memories as a complete family, but life continues. Nothing compares to the death of a child and nothing ever will. 

“I was 21 years old when Ian died and my husband was 22. We were both young, naïve and in awe of the medical profession. I am still in awe of the medical profession but only because of the brilliant work they do and not because I feel inferior to them as I did all those years ago. I am a different person now to the person I was then. I know losing a child made me harder, at least on the outside. It affected my relationship with my daughter, who was nine months old when Ian died. I felt guilty giving her attention when I couldn't give it to Ian. It took me a long time not to feel guilty. 

More than our fair share of tragedy

“My eldest daughter is 48 years old and we have a good relationship. My daughter has also lost a son, Adam, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2015. Adam died on the 7th March 2020. 

“We as a family have had more than our fair share of tragedy. Our lives have been shattered once again with the loss of our grandson Adam. Nothing will ever be the same again. I try to help my daughter with her loss but it is hard as I know the many, many years she has ahead of her without Adam and that truly breaks me. But we know we have to keep going and we will but our lives have changed, nothing will ever be the same and nothing in life will ever make us fully happy again.”

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