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Meningitis Now Community Ambassador Alison and Young Ambassador Huw

Alison Westwood

- Community Ambassadors

I developed viral meningitis in February 2003, when my children were just 1 and 3 years old.

I rapidly became seriously ill, was hospitalised and treated for viral and bacterial meningitis and took years to recover. Meningitis Now supported me through losing my job and were there for me through the years when life was difficult. My eldest son, Huw, is now a Young Ambassador and the whole family remain committed to doing all we can for the charity.

My illness began at work in January 2003. As a physiotherapist, I had treated people with meningitis but didn’t recognise my terrible headache as anything to worry about. I took painkillers to no avail but when I developed photophobia and couldn’t stand the light, my husband, John, insisted he rang the doctor. I was seen by the ‘out of hours’ service and admitted immediately to our local hospital in Bridgend. A lumbar puncture confirmed viral meningitis.

The treatment I received in hospital was excellent and saved my life, but after my discharge it became clear that I was going to take a long time to recover. The dreadful tiredness and fatigue, dizziness and vertigo, short term memory loss, intense headaches and loss of concentration meant I was unable to function at home as a Mum and wife or indeed in my job as a physiotherapist. John and my parents did almost everything for me to begin with and following very little progress towards recovery, a year later I was retired from my job ‘due to ill health.’

At this point, I felt almost as though I had been bereaved. My job had gone; I couldn’t look after my children without help, wasn’t able to drive, was no longer earning any money and felt a failure. It took me almost a year to pick up the phone and talk to the (then) Meningitis Trust but the relief of finding someone who understood what I was going through was colossal. The specialist counselling provided by the charity turned my life around and helped me to rationalise what had happened to me. Life began again. I began to learn to play the piano, became involved with the children’s school as a parent governor and also with the PTA, gradually building up my activity levels. I told my story to a couple of reporters from newspapers and magazines to help spread awareness of meningitis and also helped out over a period of time with street collections, fundraisers and other events in aid of Meningitis Now. I have also been a peer supporter of other sufferers for some time and hope to continue in this role.

I have recovered much more fully than I ever thought possible at the beginning and continue to be very grateful for the support given to me by Meningitis Now. Although I still feel excessively tired at times and continue to suffer from vertigo and dizziness, I have set up my own business as a professional gift wrapper, offering a gift wrapping service, teaching and demonstrating gift wrapping skills. I have demonstrated at the Ideal Home Show several times and even recently recorded an item for a TV programme.

Thanks to the loving encouragement of my family and support from Meningitis Now, I have made a good recovery from viral meningitis. I hope to do everything I can in the years to come to support others in their journey after meningitis, to raise awareness of the disease and its after effects as well as supporting Meningitis Now and their vision for the future.