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Student Loses Her Legs And Fingers After Mistaking Meningitis For Freshers' Flu

01/03/2016 11:21 GMT | Updated 01/03/2016 11:59 GMT

A student has lost both legs and fingers after mistaking deadly meningitis for freshers' flu.

Charlotte Hannibal, 19, from Selston, Notts, was a healthy teenager before contracting the toxic virus which left her with a sore throat and flu like symptoms after a house party.

The former Business Studies student was eventually diagnosed with septicaemia and meningitis - meningococcal group W – which usually targets young adults.

The brave teen was hospitalised for two months before doctors decided to amputate both legs below the knee, as well as half the fingers on Charlotte's left hand in a bid to save her life.

charlotte hannibal

The former Business Studies student was eventually diagnosed with septicaemia and a rare form of meningitis

A year later, despite her life changing dramatically, Charlotte now has a can-do attitude and is making progress every day - she's now campaigning to warn other students to have the vaccination which she believes could've prevented the bacterial infection.

Charlotte, who is still recovering from her ordeal, said: "I've always been a normal healthy person, I can't believe how much my life has changed in a year.

"I was going out at least once a week after starting university and I was having the time of my life, I never thought something like this could happen to me.

"The Saturday before I fell poorly I'd been at a house party with my flat mates, on the Monday I left my lectures early as I felt so unwell, then I phoned my dad to pick me up Tuesday morning.

"Throughout the night I woke up vomiting and my condition was deteriorating quickly by Wednesday I was in an induced coma for 17 days while doctors battled to save my life.

"I had severe memory loss when I woke up all I can remember is having a sore throat and flu like symptoms so I just presumed I had freshers' flu as it had been going around.

"My parents and doctors explained I'd contracted meningitis and septicaemia which had turned my lower legs, fingers and the end of my nose black.

"It was such a scary experience, my body was containing the septicaemia but it couldn't get rid of it completely so after two months doctors had no choice but to operate."

charlotte hannibal

The teen was hospitalised for two months before doctors decided to amputate both legs below the knee

"I've had to make huge changes to my life, but I wasn't upset when doctors told me they had to amputate, I just wanted to get better and would've done anything at that point to beat the virus.

"I feel incredibly lucky though, I'm still alive and although I've lost both my lower legs and fingers, some people have lost a lot more."

After Charlotte's worried parents Dawn and Peter, and her younger sister, Sophie, dialed 111 for advise they took her to a walk in centre which they believe may have saved her life.

Charlotte was then rushed straight to an intensive care unit on February 25, after her legs had become so weak that she could no longer walk and doctors recognised that something was seriously wrong.

Over the next two months Charlotte's body tried to fight off the blood poisoning at Nottingham City Hospital, but sadly in May doctors made the tough decision to amputate after the virus kept returning.

Charlotte said: "By the time we got to the walk-in centre I felt so weak, I struggled to walk so my parents hired a wheelchair, little did any of us know then that that would be the last time I stood on my own two feet.

"I later had complete organ failure and I had started developing a rash.

"When I first woke from the coma I was so frightened I couldn't understand where I was and my body was completely paralysed, I could only move my eyes and mouth.

"I spent 27 days in intensive care, before being moved to a burns and plastic ward where I spent a further 12 weeks as my scarring was similar to a burns victim.

"As well as battling both meningitis and septicemia my kidneys had stopped working too, so I've been on dialysis ever since and I'm hoping for a transplant later this year.

"When I thought I had freshers' flu my hands and feet felt really cold but then my stomach started to bloat too, I didn't know it then but my kidneys were shutting down."

On June 15, Charlotte was able to go home for the first time since being admitted to hospital over three months earlier.

Since the terrifying ordeal, Charlotte has spent the last eight months continuing to beat everyone's expectations in her recovery and continues to challenge and push herself every day.

Charlotte still goes to multiple rehabilitation appointments to help aid her recovery every week but she can now ride a bike, eat using one hand and can even do nail art on her prosthetic legs.

She added: "I used to be the laziest person I know but now I will give anything a go, I have a long journey ahead of me still but I will give every step of the way 100%.

"It felt amazing being back on my bike again for the first time recently and before all of this I used to love nail art so I'm continuing to do things I love.

"I've found new ways of using my left hand without my fingers, and soon I will be getting a cosmetic hand which will be amazing.

"I hope to return to my studies in the future too, although the past year has really opened my eyes and I'm now considering an education in medicine."

As well as recovering Charlotte has teamed up with her best friend William Fowkes and Meningitis Now to raise money and awareness.

charlotte hannibal

Charlotte riding a bike, something she has only recently re-learned

Charlotte said: "Meningitis Now have been incredible, I can't thank them and my family and friends enough for all the support they have given me.

"I plan to do as much as I can to fundraise and raise awareness, I never thought I'd get meningitis I don't think anyone does but it can happen to anyone at any time.

"I hear that a lot of young people are scared of injections, but my advice would be that one needle is worth it to prevent the hundreds of needles and operations I've had to endure since.

"I was so happy when in August a free vaccination became available for all first year university students and 17-18-year-olds in the UK, now people just need to make sure they have it.

"I can't urge people enough, if I had had the vaccination, myself and my family would have never had to have gone through such a terrifying ordeal.

"I'm taking each day as it comes but I know if I can get through what I have done in the last year, I will be able to do anything now."

charlotte hannibal

Charlotte now has a 'can-do' attitude and is making progress every day

Lucie Riches, the East Midlands Regional Support Officer for Meningitis Now said: "We'd like to thank Charlotte and William for their wonderful fundraising efforts.

"We rely on the energy, enthusiasm and initiative of her and those like her to raise the funds we need each and every day to continue our vital research, awareness and support work.

"Knowing the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, remaining vigilant and getting medical help quickly can save lives.

"Common signs & symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia are fever, cold hands and feet, headache, vomiting, muscle pain and a rash.

"If in doubt, trust your instincts and seek medical advice.

Visit meningitisnow.org for more information.