Meningitis survivor warns people to heed symptoms

A DECADE has passed since Kilcornan’s Norma McCarthy battled with meningitis – and in a life-and-death struggle, lay in an induced coma in intensive care for 111 days.

A DECADE has passed since Kilcornan’s Norma McCarthy battled with meningitis – and in a life-and-death struggle, lay in an induced coma in intensive care for 111 days.

This week, Norma, who lost both legs as a result , added her voice to those campaigning for greater awareness of the warning signs of this potentially killer disease.

And as part of Meningitis Awareness Week, Norma advises: “Know the symptoms and you could save a life.”

The symptoms of meningitis are similar to the flue or a hangover and include some or all of fever, vomiting, dislike of bright lights, neck stiffness and a rash.

“I wouldn’t like to see this happen to anybody else,” says the 27-year-old daughter of Mike and Anne McCarthy who has displayed enormous determination and courage in rebuilding her life after almost losing it.

“I was close to death seven times,” she said this week, recalling the events of 2001 which set her life on a different course.

She and a friend were being picked up from holiday jobs in Adare Manor when she fell down the “last one or two steps”. “I just though I lost my balance,” she recalls. She was bruised but spent the evening watching TV. It was the following morning, early, a cousin staying with the family alerted Norma’s mother that Norma had been sick during the night. Even then, because Norma had suffered badly from migraine, there was no great alarm. But Anne McCarthy found her daughter “totally disoriented” and when her dad Mike tired to lift, Norma just kept collapsing.

Their local doctor advised hospital and Norma quickly found herself in the Regional Hospital where tests confirmed meningitis. Very rapidly, Norma explains, her condition deteriorated, and as her kidneys started failing she was brought by ambulance to Cork where there was a continuous dialysis machine.

Her uncle Leo, driving her parents, asked when they arrived in Cork: “Is she still alive?”

What followed Norma knows only through others as she spent 111 days in an induced coma – during which she had numerous skin grafts, her amputations, she was on life support for all her vital organs.

“When I woke up, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t left my head or my hands,” she says.

But she adds: “I didn’t realize the extent of the injuries. I didn’t realize both my legs were amputated.” It was two months before she was told – and it was her dad who told her.

“I had to learn how to do everything again,” she continues. But miraculously, she adds, due to prayers said by a Fr Kidney, her kidney function revived.

Slowly, she made progress, even managing to learn how to swallow all 24 of her daily tablets -something she always found hard to do - in readiness for her long and tough rehabilitation regime at the National Rehabilitation Centre.

A year to the day after, Norma was back home. “I went back to school three weeks later,” she recalls gleefully.

In 2004, she did her Leaving Certificate – and has since stepped out into the world of work. A job she enjoyed thoroughly in the in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick finished up in June and she is now looking for a new job.

“I am living my life pretty much like everybody else. I don’t have to make allowances,” she says.

And she is happy – and in love.

And bursting with joy at what life holds.

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