Michelle's story

6th November 2014

When Michelle Atkinson started feeling ill at work she thought it was probably flu. But the Bristol mother’s symptoms quickly worsened, leaving her life in danger

Life in danger

The 37-year-old lost a fifth of the skin on her legs and parts of her toes through meningitis. Now, over a year since she first fell ill, the outpatient clerk at Bristol Royal Infirmary still has to work reduced hours because her body has not fully recovered.

I had gone home from work feeling quite unwell but I didn’t think it was anything serious. I had a fever and felt quite dizzy.

By the next day it had got a lot worse. I couldn’t move my legs. That’s when I realised it was probably a lot more serious, so I called an ambulance.

Feeling embarrassed

I felt really embarrassed calling 999 because I worked at the infirmary and I didn’t want people thinking I was over-reacting. I don’t remember much after that. Due to her serious condition doctors had to induce a coma to keep Michelle alive. She spent four weeks in the Bristol Royal Infirmary, two weeks in a coma, fighting off infections, before she was moved to the burns unit at Frenchay Hospital in the city, where she spent a further two and a half months. Some 20 per cent of the skin on her legs had been lost and parts of her toes had also gone.

Throughout my time in hospital the support and help I received from everyone – from the consultants to the cleaners – made a real difference to me; it was what kept me going. As she started to recover we were able to help Michelle in a variety of ways.

There to talk to

Meningitis Now were always there to talk to. They checked up on me. It can be quite a lonely thing being in hospital. A lot of things were happening to my body as well. It was so nice to have someone to explain it all to me and for me to have someone to talk to, even after I left hospital. I am really grateful to Meningitis Now for the support they’ve provided to myself and my daughter, Kira, including counselling and art therapy.

Raising awareness

Michelle is now back at home but still suffering from painful after effects – her feet and toes ache constantly and she is on medication for pain relief. But she now wants to raise awareness about the symptoms of meningitis and, in particular, to make it clear that it’s a disease that doesn’t just affect babies and toddlers.

She has also backed our Beat it Now! campaign to introduce a life-saving vaccine for Meningitis B into the childhood immunisation programme. The more that can be done to stop this dreadful disease the better. Until there are vaccines for all strains it is vital that people know the signs and symptoms to look out for and catch it early.

If it had been caught earlier in my case it wouldn’t have spread so far.

Michelle is now taking on a skydive in August to raise funds for Meningitis Now. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did. Raising awareness and funding for Meningitis Now will I hope help towards achieving that.

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