Mum joins son as charity ambassador

3rd May 2016

South Wales mum Alison Westwood has joined her son Huw as an Ambassador for us

Huw blog
Alison, 54, has taken on the prestigious voluntary role of Community Ambassador after fighting back from her own experience of the disease.

Alison will work alongside Huw, already a Young Ambassador for us, in her local South Wales community to help fund vital research, raise awareness and support others who have suffered from the disease.

“I’m delighted to have this opportunity to give something back to Meningitis Now and make a difference with their work in my local community” Alison said. “With their support no one in South Wales will have to face meningitis alone.”

“I know only too well how cruel this disease can be and I don’t want other local families to go through what we have. It’s vital that everybody recognises the signs and symptoms and knows what action to take if they suspect meningitis.”

Determined to make a difference

“This role will be a challenge but I’m determined to make a difference.”

The announcement comes as our fourth Viral Meningitis Week, between 2 and 8 May, seeks to raise awareness to inform the public, health professionals and employers about the true impact of viral meningitis and the long-term problems it can bring. The week calls for sufferers to be “vocal about viral” to dispel myths and misconceptions that the viral form of the disease is not dangerous and always ‘mild’.

In January 2003, Alison developed a bad headache one Friday at work, which did not respond to painkillers. She was later diagnosed with viral meningitis.

Alison says: “When I was taken ill, my children Gareth and Huw were just one and three years old. I did not want to have to be in hospital and leave them. However, I was admitted and had a CT scan and lumbar puncture immediately. The result was that I had viral meningitis.”

Nursed in isolation

“I was nursed in isolation and felt very alone. Nursing staff did not seem to want to touch me or have anything to do with me. However, the treatment I had saved my life. I wasn't able to see my children for well over a week and have very confused, odd memories of my time in hospital.”

Once discharged from hospital, Alison realised just how ill she had been. She could not manage to hold a hairdryer to dry her hair or walk her eldest son to school only a couple of hundred yards away. She was unable to cook, and dizziness and vertigo were constant.

”My head often felt as though it would split open with the awful headaches and other quite indescribable sensations. I lost my job because, one year later, I was little further on in my recovery.”

“Meningitis Now was brilliant and helped me so much by supporting me and my family and getting a specialist counsellor to come and see me so I could begin to come to terms with my situation.“

Feeling permanently tired and unwell

“I ended up being unable to drive for several years and feeling permanently tired and unwell. My immune system was in pieces and I picked up everything going!” 

Thirteen years on, Alison is able to function much better but it has taken her a long time to get to this point. She now has her own business, although her physical stamina is not what it once was.

Thankful for her recovery, Alison says: “There were definitely times when I felt I would never live a normal life again. Thankfully I have been able to see my children grow up - I know others have been less fortunate.”

Alison believes that viral meningitis is a hugely underestimated condition, saying “I feel the medical profession has a very poor understanding of the disease and an even poorer understanding of the after- effects.

“Through chatting to other sufferers, I have learned that many of us feel this way and feel we have been labelled as 'feeble' or 'malingerers.' Thankfully Meningitis Now understands and provides that lifeline of support for life to all those affected and their families.” 

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