fighting meningococcal disease   |   Support, Awareness and Reducing deaths in WA from meningococcal disease

Karen’s Story

A man in white asked me, “Where are you?”  I didn’t know!“What day is it?”  I didn’t know!“You have Meningococcal Septicaemia – how did you get it?” I DIDN’T KNOW!

I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t understand what was happening.We were preparing for a getaway down south for the 2005 New Year festivities. Dennis, my fiance, told me months later that I had said I was tired and went to bed. I did not have a headache or aching limbs or flu symptoms.
He said I vomited during the night ; It was the festive season – it could have been the food etc. 

There is no recollection of that night or the next month. I went to sleep – and did not wake up. When Dennis tried to wake me early in the morning, there was no response and the heat coming from my body prompted him to put a thermometer under my armpit. After only afew seconds it registered as 41*C. He picked me up, carried me into the car and drove to Joondalup Hospital…no time to wait for an ambulance. 

Within minutes, the staff had me in Emergency, administering antibiotics – because they believed I had pneumonia. If we had not been going away, he would have left me ‘sleeping’ and slipped off to work. One doctor saw a bruise on my right breast (that’s all there was – no red pinprick or purple rash). Dennis thought it could have been from lifting me ‘roughly’ into the car.

We didn’t know anything about this disease and its symptoms. Despite it being only 6:30am, he sent for another doctor, an expert on menigococcal . That doctor was Dr Steve Webb, the senior lecturer in Intensive Care Medicine, Department of Medicine at U.W.A.He knew the symptoms immediately and I was transferred to Critical Care, attached to lifesupport and put into an induced coma. 

My heart failed, my kidneys failed, my lungs failed, my white cell count was down from 150 to 11, and I was given a 1% chance of surviving as the disease coursed through the bloodvessels, breaking out in blisters/ulcers and bleeding into the skin all over my body.

The staff at Joondalup fought hard and I started to stabilize – only to slip back again. My younger son and family members were gathered together at my bedside and at the suggestion of the medical team my older son and his wife and child flew from Brisbane to be with them. 

Dennis was constantly by my side, massaging parts of my body that were not filled with tubes, talking to me, hoping to break through the barrier to the subconscious. I wish I could say I remember it, but I don’t. However, it must have had some success as I am told I responded as requested, so that when the doctors brought me out of the coma, I was sent to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Intensive Care. 

While there, my right hand and several fingers on the left hand were amputated. After some time, more of my right forearm was removed, and again, even more was removed.

As the months passed, I was able to be taken off several of the monitors; I did not need dialysis any more, the heart and lungs improved and soon the ‘trachy’ was removed. Now I could speak and for the first time say “Thank you for saving me, Dennis.” 

…Then I developed pneumonia! There were still many tubes attached to my neck and endless X-rays, blood tests, nerve-blocking operations to reduce the pain and CAT scans. My arms and legs were heavily bandaged, being treated as if I were a burns victim. A vacuum pump was attached to an area which resisted treatment to reduce deep-seated infection in a gaping wound. The fact that a nurse fainted while dressing it, didn’t instil confidence in a speedy recovery.

Dennis was always there:

• to help the nurses with the hours of dressing changes

• to put up with my constant vomiting

• to patiently wait as I regained consciousness after slipping into morphine-induced ‘sleep’

• to calm me down after suffering horrendous hallucinations

• to try to comprehend what I was trying to convey due to lack of speech because of the tubes down my throat

• to keep me and the whole family in positive spirits.

However, the toll on him was great and he suffered a breakdown. He had been so busy caring for everyone else’s well-being that he had neglected his own. Once again, the staff at Sir Charles Gairdner helped and soon the counsellor was there to give him support.

My confidence grew and I learnt to walk again. Together we trod the corridors and soon I was strong enough to go on to Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital. There, my wounds were treated and I underwent hours and hours of physiotherapy, occupational therapy andencouragement.

It was the next stage of regaining my life. Each day, Dennis would ‘encourage’ me through my exercises, even when I believed I was not able to do them. He suggested exercises that would help me with different tasks. My prosthetic arm was created and I learnt to use it. Then, one day, the doctor told me I could try a few days at home, but come back again. I knew then, what my goal was – TO BE AT HOME!

Finally, I was well enough to go home and prepare for my wedding day!

Five months after falling victim to this devastating disease, the man who had stood by me and given incredible support to everyone, waiting for me to get well, was going to wait for me at the end of the aisle and become my husband.

May 2006 was a celebration of life -and we will look forward to enjoying every day of life because we have been given the chance to do so. 
The support of my colleagues, friends,people who have been affected,and the love of my family will keep me strong and help raise awareness of Meningoccocal Septicaemia to reduce suffering.