Report by Charlotte Richardson , chief reporter
Thursday, May 3, 2012
A MOTHER has relived the ‘nightmare’ of seeing both her children contract life-threatening strains of the same illness within weeks of each other.
This year marks 10 years since Anna Palmer and Victoria Phillips were diagnosed with the meningococcal b strain of meningitis.
To mark World Meningitis Day, their mum Sheila Palmer has told the Mercury how her daughters both developed the illness, that can kill in hours, within eight weeks of each other.
The girls, now aged 30 and 26, did not catch the illness from each other and Anna, the eldest, was so seriously ill she was given only an hour to live when her mother found her collapsed in a hotel room.
She had been on a training course in Truro in 2002 when she telephoned Sheila, now aged 58, and complained of headaches and flu-type symptoms such as aching joints.
When she still felt ill the next day, Sheila offered to drive to Cornwall to pick her daughter up.
But by the time she got there that afternoon she found Anna, who now lives in Bristol, collapsed on the bed.
Her vital organs had begun to shut down and she only would have lived another hour had her mum not found her.
Sheila, of Weston, said: “The doctors rushed Anna into intensive care and said ‘Anna is very poorly’ and I said ‘define very poorly’.They said her vital organs had started to pack up.”
Anna was admitted to intensive care and made a full recovery, with her family given antibiotics in case they had any trace of the illness.
But eight weeks later, on Boxing Day, Victoria, who also now lives in Bristol, began to complain of a headache and aching legs and she started being sick.
Anna discovered a rash on Victoria’s skin and did the ‘glass test’ to see if the rash was still visible when a glass was rolled over it.
It was and, knowing the symptoms because of Anna’s experience, they rushed Victoria, now a mother-of-one, to Weston General Hospital where she too was diagnosed with the same strain of meningitis her sister had.
Sheila added: “The doctors said they couldn’t have caught it from each other because we had antibiotics and there was too long a period of time between the cases
“It must be a one in a million chance it could happen to both your children like that, but it was a nightmare experience.
“It is vitally important that people know the symptoms of meningitis.
“We caught Victoria’s case quickly because we knew what to look out for.
“I was given a leaflet when Anna fell ill and was ticking off the symptoms that Victoria had on it.
“Knowing what to look out for could save somebody’s life.”
Meningitis Research Foundation, the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK say that meningitis and septicaemia kill more under-fives than any other infectious disease in this country. About 300 people in the UK die from the disease each year and six families a week face the devastation of losing a loved-one.
The charities are all members of the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO), which organised World Meningitis Day on April 24 to increase public awareness of the symptoms, highlight the need for urgent treatment and call for all children to be fully vaccinated.
Currently, the UK vaccinates children against many forms of meningitis and septicaemia, which have saved thousands of lives.
But there is still no vaccine against the most common strain, meningococcal b, resulting in the UK still seeing about 3,400 cases of life-threatening bacterial meningitis and septicaemia every year.