Imagine a 17 year old girl, only weeks after passing her driving test, shortly after getting her A Level results, days off her 18th birthday and looking forward to all that lies ahead of her, including university in a month's time. The girl feels a little off colour, perhaps she has a bad cold or maybe the flu. She hopes it won't spoil her birthday plans and puts on a brave face, but she feels worse rather than better. A few days later on her 18th birthday, she is admitted to hospital. A few days after that, her family are told that she isn't going to make it and have to say their goodbyes. Her presents wait for her at home unopened, her birthday cake in its box uneaten, and her bright future snuffed out in just a few days.
Imagine now a baby, only nine months old. He has just moved into his own room, his parents looking forward to perhaps getting a bit more sleep, but still keeping an alert ear, listening for his cry when he wakes up and needs a cuddle to settle him. They put him to bed, stroking his back until he drifts off to sleep. All is well. They check on him every so often but he sleeps soundly. The next morning when he wakes up he is running a temperature and is out of sorts. He doesn't want to play, just to rest his head on his mother's shoulder, quieting moaning. His condition worsens. His mother takes him to hospital. By early afternoon he is slipping in and out of consciousness. By the evening he is in intensive care. His parents don't know if he will live or die.
Both of those situations are true stories. The little boy was my son Finn, the girl was my friend's sister, Anne. Both suffered from meningococcal disease more commonly known as meningitis and septicaemia. Meningitis is an infection of the brain, septicaemia is blood poisoning. They can occur separately, but more often occur together. The speed with which they attack is frightening and their effects devastating.
Finn survived but Anne, and many others, didn't. Of those who do survive, the after effects are often life changing including loss of limbs, organ failure, hearing loss, brain damage and emotional difficulties. My son was extremely fortunate. He developed pneumococcal meningitis. It's an aggressive strain most common in babies under 18 months old. It is fatal in 15% of cases and 25% of those who survive are left with severe and disabling after-effects. From what we can tell, Finn has made a full recovery. However no-one escapes a brush with meningitis unscathed - while he is physically fine, his father and I bear the emotional scars. He will no doubt wonder why his mother whips out the thermometer at the first hint of a snuffle or feels the need to hug him that little bit tighter and for that little bit longer than his friends' parents. He doesn't know that with every kiss his mother is saying a prayer of thanks that he's still here and with each hug is trying to commit the feel, smell and warmth of her child to her memory in case something steals him from her.
But I am very lucky - I still have my son and I want to do everything I can to prevent anyone else from going through what we did, or worse. My husband and I want something good to come out of our experience and are frequently humbled by people, like my friend, who are doing everything they can to raise awareness about this illness, support those who are dealing with it and raise funds to help in the fight against meningitis.
We are climbing Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America, and the second highest of the "Seven Summits" after Everest to raise money for Meningitis Now. This will physically be the hardest thing we've ever done, but leaving my son for the month it will take us to complete this trek is, for me, a far greater challenge. I want to make it worthwhile by raising as much money as possible. Meningitis Now offer support to those suffering from meningitis and their families, raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of meningitis, and campaign for vaccines. They have been instrumental in the roll out of the meningitis B vaccine to babies and their vision is a future where no one dies from meningitis. But there is so much more work to be done - the meningitis B vaccine needs to be rolled out to all children and there are currently types of meningitis for which no vaccine is available.
Mountain Warehouse are running a charity challenge competition in which they will give £10,000 to the most popular charity challenge. We have entered and we've made it through to the final. We have until 30 September to get as many votes as possible. It takes 20 seconds to vote, costs nothing and, if we win, really could help to save lives. Please help us. Meningitis can strike anyone at any age - it isn't just small children and students - Roger Daltrey from The Who has just been diagnosed with viral meningitis at the age of 71. I hope with all my heart it never affects your loved ones.
Please vote and help us win £10,000 for Meningitis Now by clicking on this link