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Meningitis: The danger to adults

Meningitis in young people: BBC Look East's Anna Todd meets Nicole Wilson

A young woman from Cambridgeshire is sharing her story to raise awareness of the risk of meningitis to adults.

Nicole Wilson was on holiday in Cyprus when she began to feel unwell. Her symptoms escalated quickly and she was diagnosed with meningitis.

The dangers of the disease to children are well-known, but many people are unaware that it can affect all ages.

Nicole was left severely disabled and wants to ensure that people her age know which symptoms to look for.

"I'd hate to think that someone else could be in my position and say that they didn't know anything about it," Nicole said.

Nicole Wilson
Nicole smiles but is in constant pain and waiting for a new kidney


She was just 16 when the disease took hold. Nicole was on holiday in Cyprus in June 2008 when she started to feel unwell.

"I was really, really ill. I knew something was wrong," she said.

She was taken to hospital where she lapsed into a coma.

Nicole had meningitis, or meningococcal septicaemia to be precise.

When she woke up, after three weeks in the Cypriot hospital, she was transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

"I was in shock for three days," Nicole told the BBC. "I didn't know I had meningitis. I thought I'd been in a car accident.

"I was paralysed, and black from head to foot.

"The doctors gave me less than a 10% chance, and several times they told my parents that it would be a miracle if I survived the night.

"I was very ill but deep down I knew I was going to lose my legs," she continued.

"I looked down and they were black. They were just dead and I thought my life was over. I wouldn't be able to dance or walk or do anything, ever again."

'Checking symptoms'

Nicole's kidneys also failed, and it was two months before she was well enough for the surgeons to operate.

Rash that does not fade under pressure
High fever
Severe headache
Stiff neck
Dislike of bright light
Confusion and irritability
Muscle pains, stomach cramps and diarrhoea
Cold and pale hands and feet

She lost most of her fingers, both her legs were amputated below the knee and she has lost the sight in one eye.

Nicole now has lifelike prosthetic limbs and has to attend hospital for dialysis sessions three times a week.

She has also been left infertile.

She admits that she had no idea that meningitis could affect young people or adults.

"My mum was very vigilant about checking symptoms like headaches and things when we were children, but that dwindled out as we got older," Nicole said.

"Everyone just thinks there's a rash and then you're fine. But it's not like that. There's more than just that to meningococcal septicaemia.

"You're left with everything that I've got."

Nicole's own symptoms began with diarrhoea, sickness and severe joint pains.

"The rash didn't come until later," she said.

Now aged 19, Nicole says that she is coming to terms with her disability.

"Emotionally, I still get very down, but every day I get a bit better.

"I say to my friends that I can do anything they can do. It just takes me longer.

Nicole Wilson
The prosthetic legs allow her to walk. One day Nicole hopes to dance again

"It's very hard, though. I still get out of bed in the morning and think I can walk.

"And in my dreams I've still got my legs."

Nicole continued: "I've got this, and I'm dealing with it, but I'll never get over it.

"My day-to-day life is different to how it used to be. It's very different.

"It's unlucky that I got meningitis, but it's lucky that I survived it."

'Red flag symptoms'

The Meningitis Research Foundation has issued a warning to people to be aware of the symptoms as cases of the disease often increase during cold weather, when immune systems are suppressed.

The organisation says that time is critical and people should be aware of what they call 'red flag symptoms' such as cold hands and feet, pale or mottled skin, and limb, joint or muscle pain, which often manifest themselves before the classic symptoms of meningitis.

For more information visit the website:

Q&A: Meningitis warning signs
11 Jan 06 |  Health



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