Double amputee Meningitis survivor Andrea Evans tells tale of fight against deadly disease

By: Julia McWatt, South Wales Echo
Jul 27 2011

At the age of 16 Andrea Evans caught meningitis, which resulted in kidney failure and the amputation of both her legs. Julia McWatt hears her story of survival and how she’s now helping a New Zealand earthquake survivor

WHEN Andrea Evans became severely unwell as a teenager, her family just put it down to food poisoning.

It was not until Andrea, who was 16 at the time, collapsed in the bathroom at her home in Danescourt, Cardiff, that they realised it was something more serious.

Andrea’s mother, Mary, a nurse at Rookwood Hospital, called 999 and she was rushed to the University Hospital of Wales, where they found that Andrea had the potentially deadly B-strain meningitis.

Andrea then spent nine weeks in hospital, five weeks in intensive care, and was on the brink of death as her organs started to fail.

Having caught the infection in October 2002, Andrea underwent a kidney transplant on Christmas Day 2003.

The infection had also caused blood poisoning that spread to her legs and, after 26 operations to try to save her legs, doctors had no choice but to amputate them both below the knee.

Andrea said: “I cannot remember the initial part of being hospitalised but I can remember being at home and feeling pretty poorly – very tired and I had a really bad head. My parents thought that it was a bit of food poisoning, until I was taken in to hospital and I became significantly worse.

“My legs had suffered extensively from the septicaemia side of the disease, and I had numerous operations on them including skin grafts. After a couple of months my legs were getting no better, so it was decided that they needed to be amputated in order for me to get better.

“Then, on Christmas Day in 2003, I received my kidney transplant and I am very grateful to my donor and her family.”

Andrea refused to let the disease ruin her life and went on to finish her A-levels at Bishop of Llandaff High School. She had wanted to become a paramedic, but could no longer kneel on the floor, so she decided to become a nurse.

She studied a foundation course in health science at the University of Glamorgan and then enrolled for her nursing degree at the same university.

She said: “The initial challenge of starting the course was great, but I was not sure if I would be able to complete my studies as I was not sure if I could stand for the duration of a shift. But I graduated in 2009 and worked full time until earlier this year.

“Initially the effects of meningitis didn’t affect me too much, but it affected my family and friends more. I can’t imagine what they went through emotionally for those first couple of weeks. However the recovery process was long. Often I wondered if it would ever get better. It’s strange because I had heard of meningitis, and had been vaccinated against it, so never realised that I would contract a different strain. I have been very, very lucky and I have an awesome prosthetist who has helped me over and above his duty.”

Having made a full recovery and using prosthetic limbs, Andrea moved to Christchurch, New Zealand in March this year with her boyfriend, Mike.

She is planning to continue her work as a nurse when her work visas come through and is currently providing support to a woman who survived the earthquake but suffered severe injuries to her limbs.

She said: “I have had some contact with a young lady who was injured in the quake. I am just trying to support her and tell her that things will get better as she is trying to adjust to her new life with severe injuries.”

Andrea’s mother, Mary, who still lives in Danescourt, said: “She got gradually worse and then collapsed in the toilet.

“It was really scary as we did not really know what was wrong. We got to A&E and then I noticed she had a purple rash. When we look back we can see the signs of septicaemia.

“After she had her legs amputated, she was like a different personbecause the infection was out of her body.

“She made a good recovery and is so inspiring. She is so determined with what she wants to do.”

MENINGITIS FACTS

Meningitis can be either viral of bacterial and there are around 3,500 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia each year.

Viral meningitis can be unpleasant but it is almost never life-threatening and most people will soon make a full recovery.

Bacterial meningitis is more serious and most cases are caused by meningococcal bacteria. These bacteria also cause septicaemia, a far more life-threatening form of the disease.

The Meningitis Research Foundation’s Counting the Costs campaign shows that a severe case of meningitis can cost £3m in a person’s lifetime in social, medical and educational costs, and are encouraging people to make sure they have their vaccinations.

Linda Glennie, head of research at the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Most of the time the type of meningitis is bacterial meningitis, which is the most life-threatening strain. The bacteria are passed from person to person and spread by close contact with people, such as living with them.

“Most of us at some time in our life might carry the bacteria in the back of our nose or throat and the chance of being a carrier rises in our lifetime. Between 15-25 years old, there is a 25% chance of being a carrier. Many of us do not get ill, we just pass it around until it gets to someone more susceptible.

Most cases of meningitis and septicaemia are individual cases that are not linked, but outbreaks can be quite frightening.

“The early stages of meningitis can look just like any other illness and it is often hard to tell the difference. You may start to feel feverish and under the weather and you might seem irritable. You usually get a fever and a headache. You may also get other symptoms like cold hands and feet and limb pain.

“The classic symptom is a rash that does not fade under the pressure of a glass. The rash will often spread quite rapidly and the spots become bigger as they spread. Other symptoms include having a stiff neck and a dislike of bright lights.

“We tell parents to always trust their instincts.

“It may appear that you child is just a bit ill but if they suddenly become a lot worse, see the doctor.

“Inoculation is very important to beat meningitis. All the inoculations that babies get have got meningitis vaccines in them. Keeping on top of the vaccines is extremely important.

“Vaccinations seem to be doing the trick for now but we are continuing our research as the disease may one day outsmart the vaccine.”

* For more information about meningitis and septicaemia visit www.meningitis.org

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/showbiz-and-lifestyle/health-and-beauty-in-wales/2011/07/27/meningitis-survivor-andrea-evans-tells-tale-of-fight-against-deadly-disease-91466-29123904/#ixzz1TO12wGE5

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