Six-year-old Freya, from Totton, near Southampton, saw sister Niamh come close to death after she contracted the deadly disease in April 2018.
Nearly a year on, Freya resolved to raise money for Meningitis Now and, with the help of mum Sue, came up with a cunning plan: to get people to sponsor her to have her beautiful long hair cut off.
Sue said Freya had already decided she wanted a “more grown-up” look and was going to donate her shorn locks to The Little Princess Trust – which uses donated hair to make wigs for children who have lost their own hair to cancer treatment or other illnesses.
But when Freya said she also wanted to raise money to fight meningitis, Sue suggested asking people to sponsor her when she got her hair cut off.
“We find Freya’s wonderful act incredibly selfless!” said Sue.
Little Niamh, now four years old, fell ill in April after a couple of days of having a cough and cold.
“I’m a St John’s Ambulance volunteer and was due to go on a course but didn’t really want to as she didn’t seem herself,” said Sue.
“In the end I did go but got a call because she had gone downhill so rapidly. When I got home I was absolutely shocked by what I found.”
Sue dialled 111 and secured an out of hours appointment for her daughter at nearby Lymington Hospital. When they got there, the GP asked how long Niamh had been semi-conscious for. Her eyes were rolling in her head and they were told she needed to get to A&E straight away.
“From that moment on, we knew it was bad”, said Sue. “She had some severe seizures - she was very, very poorly”.
The whole time this was happening Sue hadn’t thought it was meningitis because Niamh didn’t have a rash. But in the end, her daughter ended up in intensive care for three days, and afterwards went into the High Dependency Unit (HDU).
Luckily Niamh regained her health and last September she started school. They are keeping an eye on her, but overall she has recovered remarkably well – with mum Sue calling her “incredibly robust”.
Looking back, there was one thing that Sue thinks made all the difference. When they arrived at Lymington Hospital they were initially in a queue behind two elderly couples. But when the couples saw how unwell Niamh looked they urged her to go in front of them.
“That twenty minutes made all the difference,” said Sue. And she added that even as a St John’s Ambulance volunteer she didn’t suspect meningitis.
“If you are in doubt, get it checked,” she said. “Niamh had no rash whatsoever – it wasn’t until we got to the GP that we realised how serious it was”.
Freya’s hair cut will take place on 9 March; visit her JustGiving page to support her.