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The importance of the meningitis vaccination for students: Louise's story

6th October 2015
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So, I got an email this morning from the University of Portsmouth (the place that is about to become my home). The subject line: Meningitis. The email was encouraging people to get the Men ACWY vaccine at the start of term, if they hadn’t already.

‘This is awesome!’ was my initial thought, because it is massively encouraging.

This was one of those situations where I had to remove myself from the equation. I had my Men ACWY vaccine on August 21st. It was very simple; I phoned my GP and made an appointment. I needed absolutely no encouragement to get this particular injection. In fact, once we find somebody willing to do it, my parents are going to pay for me to get the Men B vaccine as well.

For me, anything to prevent this disease is something worth doing but I guess once you’ve had one strain, and had your life turned upside down, a vaccine is an obvious option. Men ACWY is free too, so it’s especially simple.

It helps, I suppose, that I spent the last week on work experience at head office of Meningitis Now - the charity that provides lifelong, dedicated support to those of us unlucky enough to be affected by meningitis, and also puts a huge amount of time and resources into preventing future cases when it’s possible.

They are in the process of launching their new student campaign. My timing was impeccable: as somebody who is about to start university, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to show up to the office. It seemed they had a lot of questions and some poor sod had to answer all of them. I was that well timed, poor sod.

When my sister and I discussed the drive to get students to get vaccinated she had this to say:

“Ask them: Do you want to die?If they say no, tell them to get the vaccine.”

Simple, but effective I guess, but this is what I mean when I say that I have to think outside myself. I had an incredibly severe and aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis when I was 11 years old. I should have died.

I ended up in the ICU of Bristol Children’s hospital, in an induced coma, and had to have brain surgery. I was lucky to wake up and I was lucky not to be severely brain damaged. My family went through hell that week, and my life was never the same again.

The after-effects are still here. When you go through that and find out that there was a vaccine all along, a vaccine that could have prevented it, you go a little crazy. I had pneumococcal meningitis. There is a vaccine which covers a certain number of strains and it is one of those that I had. I just wasn’t ever offered it.

So when the government say: “Here’s a vaccine to stop certain types of meningitis”, I jump at the chance.

Most people don’t have that experience though, so maybe the motivation isn’t there. That’s what Meningitis Now is fighting for; to make everyone motivated.

Students are a huge at risk group as it is. You’re away from home, you maybe aren’t looking after yourself very well (alcohol and Super Noodles), and you’re four times as likely to have the bacteria in your body as the general population.

As great as the vaccine is, it does not cover all types of meningitis - which is why Meningitis Now works so hard to raise awareness. Everybody needs to know the signs and symptoms of this truly evil disease because once somebody has it, it only takes hours to kill.

If it doesn’t kill, the long term after-effects can change your life forever.

Loss of limbs, loss of hearing, loss of sight, severe brain damage, acquired brain injury - just to name a few.

It’s what I would call good motivation both to get vaccinated and learn the symptoms.

Those of us who’ve already had meningitis, and are living with the effects, are about to gain a whole new resource. Meningitis Now is building a website for us to use as a place to post blogs, vlogs and photos. A lot of my work experience week was about this site.

Although one aim is to raise awareness of the disease and join in the fight to save lives, a large focus is on rebuilding futures. The site will be a place for people to show that we are still human. We are still students who engage in all the usual student things; we just might have to do it in our own way.

For me this is huge because honestly, having meningitis sucks. Having an acquired brain injury sucks pretty hard too.

We’re pretty good at living though. Surviving a horrific disease and dealing with a massive trauma, most of us probably did that with our eyes closed (literally in my case due to the coma)-  but then you get given your life back and it’s not the same.

It’s never the same.

We live it anyway though. More than that, we live our best lives.

With the launch of this site, we have a space to do that together and hopefully build a place of collective belonging. Not just for those of us who’ve had meningitis but really anybody who’s young and living with a disability or chronic illness.

Let’s talk all about it or talk about anything but.

That’s the whole point.

Show that we are still human.

Meningitis Now is giving us that power.

I don’t know about anybody else but I fully intend to use it.

 




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