Turning 18 was the most exciting time of my life. I was looking forward to making the most of becoming an 'official' adult and spending as much time going out with my friends as possible. Those turning 18 or off to university this year are probably feeling full of this excitement and the joys of not knowing what's around the corner - gearing up to start an amazing new chapter.
Despite that being over five years ago, I remember that feeling like it was yesterday. But sadly for me, I only managed to enjoy a few months of carefree 18-year-old fun, because out of the blue, the ruthless diseases that are meningitis and septicaemia put a dramatic stop to life as I knew it.
January 12th 2010 started out as usual for me and I didn't feel any different than normal. I headed off to the stables in the evening to see my horses, Dee and Bertie, and I remember my arms feeling really heavy when I brushed them, which was weird and made me question whether there was something wrong. After muddling through the evening in a bit of a blur feeling extremely poorly, I fell asleep in the lounge. Luckily my mum, a former nurse, kept an eye on me and decided to sleep in the room with me.
I'm so glad she did, because her decision to stay close to me probably saved my life.
At 5am, my mum woke to check on me and saw that I was covered in a rash from head to toe. Because of her medical background, she knew straight away what was wrong and immediately called 999. I remember a mention of meningitis and my reaction was: 'Surely this couldn't be something I would catch, isn't that a disease that affects babies?' But there was no time to absorb the news as shortly afterwards I was drifting in and out of consciousness and being wheeled away in an ambulance, pumped full of antibiotics. My lasting memory is of my dad's face. The visible fear that he would lose me is something I will never forget.
When I arrived in hospital, it became even more of a nightmare for my family, who were told I had a 10% chance of survival and they all said their goodbyes to me, thinking they'd never see me again.
I was put into an induced coma for three weeks, and my family watched as my limbs turned black with the septicaemia, which slowly took over my body. I lost a number of toes as a result.
It's since been a slow recovery. My lower left leg was amputated 18 months after first contracting the disease and I also had to have a hip replacement aged just 21 from where meningitis had destroyed the bone. I've been lucky to receive a great deal of support from family and friends throughout this time, and from amazing charities such as Meningitis Research Foundation.
As scary and life altering as this all was, it's amazing to think I'm still here and was one of the lucky ones, as I know now that it could have been even worse. Meningitis and septicaemia can be fatal, and survivors can often be left with other devastating injuries such as brain damage, blindness, deafness and learning difficulties.
This year, first time university students and 18 year olds are eligible for a new meningitis and septicaemia vaccination programme, which protects against the diseases' strains A, C, W and Y. It's been introduced following a rise in cases of meningitis W since 2009, which is a little known but very dangerous strand of the disease.
When I contracted meningitis, I had no idea that young people like myself were at a high risk of the disease, but in fact 25% can carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose and throat without suffering any illness themselves. First time university students are particularly vulnerable due to mixing closely with lots of new people.
I want to share my experience to ensure that those who get the opportunity to get the vaccine take up on the offer immediately. If you're 18 years old or starting university in the coming weeks, please make sure you take up on the offer of the vaccine when contacted by your GP. Take it from me, it's one part of your university preparation that you don't want to put off.
For more information on the new MenACWY vaccination programme please visit: nhs.uk/menacwy
If you have been affected by meningitis and septicaemia or have any questions about the diseases or vaccinations available please visit: www.meningitis.org or call the Freephone helpline 080 8800 3344