Knowing which meningitis symptoms to look for were vital in saving Hayley’s life
Hayley Hewitt is encouraging people to learn the symptoms of meningitis and to act fast if they think they have it. Following Meningitis Awareness Week last week, Hayley spoke about her experience of the virus.
Hayley Hewitt was 18 and a student when she contracted meningitis.
At first she thought she was just feeling run down as she was still recovering from the flu but after being sent home and feeling cold and tired she tried to sleep it off.
It was only when she woke during the night that she noticed the first signs that something was very wrong.
“I looked in the mirror and saw a little rash on my forehead. It was like little pinpricks. I remember getting up again and when I put my hand to my head I saw I had a rash on my arms with big spots.
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“There was so much in the media previously that they had drummed it into you what to look out for. So I went downstairs and did the tumbler test over my arms and the spots didn’t disappear. That’s when I said to my parents I need to get to hospital.”
She went to Oldchurch Hospital, Romford, now Queen’s Hospital, and was seen straight away. Doctors did a lumbar puncture to check the fluid in her brain.
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Hayley said doctors told her she was fine to go home. “They told my mum they had tested me and wanted to put me on the ward and they would let me go in a couple of hours. They said I didn’t have meningitis.
“But I was delirious and my mum insisted that I wasn’t right and asked the doctors and nurses to check me again.
“After that I took a turn for the worse. Nothing was stirring me and the rash was spreading down my legs. I don’t remember much else after that.”
She was monitored for 24 hours and it was a shock for her parents to see her wired up to the equipment in intensive care. After two days Hayley started responding to the high dose of antibiotics, she woke up and the spots had gone.
She said: “They were asking me basic questions like where I lived to test if I had brain damage.
“The doctors were telling me how lucky I was and, if I hadn’t woken in the night and noticed the spots and alerted them about it, then almost definitely I wouldn’t have made it and the meningitis could have killed me. Even half an hour later would have made a big difference.
“It all just happened so fast. I didn’t have any time to even think about it. My instincts said there was something wrong.
“Afterwards I heard stories of how other people had died from it. I felt really lucky to survive it and couldn’t believe it. I felt like ‘why me out of all those people?’”
After ten days in hospital Hayley was released and was able to go home.
Doctors reassured her that she had as much chance of getting meningitis again as anyone else.
Hayley, who is now 32, said: “It did make me appreciate my life, family and friends a lot more, and only now as I’m older can I really appreciate it and how serious it could have been. I know that I could have died.
“I could have gone home when the doctors said, and many people will take that advice, but my mum knew that I wasn’t better and made them check me again.”
Her advice to others is “be persistent”.
She said: “There is a difference between colds and flu and feeling a lot worse. I felt rotten and awful and knew it was more than just the flu and the doctors saved my life.
“If you know you don’t feel right insist the doctors check you again.”