A group of parents who each lost a teenager to meningitis have issued a hard-hitting warning to other parents to ensure their children take up a lifesaving vaccine against the disease.
Parents including Michelle Bresnahan, Paul Gentry, Julia Styles and Ailsa Sugrue are spearheading charity Meningitis Now’s campaign to increase Men ACWY vaccine uptake amongst young adults.
United in their grief, they have taken the brave step to speak out about the pain of their loss to prevent similar tragedies happening to other families.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Michelle said: “We all know only too well how devastating this disease can be and have seen the worst it can do, destroying young lives and tearing apart those who remain.
“We want to appeal to all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially those who are heading off to university this autumn.
“We’re also calling on parents to ask another parent in their son’s or daughter’s friendship group to do likewise – the more awareness we can raise the better.
“If by speaking out and sharing our tragic stories we can persuade other parents and their children to act then our children’s deaths will not have been in vain.
“No one should be left counting the cost of inaction when there is a quick and effective vaccination freely available.”
Meningitis Now’s campaign coincides with a campaign by Public Health England to increase vaccination rates among young people.
The Men ACWY vaccine has been offered to all 17 and 18-year-olds and all university entrants, aged 19-25, free on the NHS since August 2015, to combat the rise in Men W cases in adolescents.
But cases continue to increase in England, from 30 in 2011/12 to 210 last year (2015/16), up from 176 the previous year.
Meanwhile, uptake of the vaccine across the country remains stubbornly low at about one-third of those eligible.
Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: “This is a brave step by these parents to speak out and a timely reminder to others to make sure young people get the Men ACWY vaccine.
“Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers and up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in 10 of the general population.
“Over 17 per cent of all cases of Men W occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.”
Those who are due to leave school this summer, or who are aged 17 – 18 and not in school (born between 1 September 1998 and 31 August 1999) are now eligible for the vaccine and should contact their GP practice.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “The MenACWY vaccination programme will save lives and prevent lifelong and devastating disability.
“We have seen a rapid increase in Men W cases across England in recent years and vaccination is the most effective way of protecting against infection.
“Young people are particularly at risk as they are carriers of the disease. Being in confined environments with close contact, such university halls, hostels when travelling, or attending festivals, increase the chances of infection if unprotected.”
Anyone who is eligible and has missed vaccination in previous years remains eligible up to their 25th birthday and is urged to have the MenACWY vaccine.
Ryan Bresnahan: A life for a cure
Michelle Bresnahan and her family launched ‘A Life for a Cure’ in memory of her 16-year-old son Ryan who died from meningitis on March 31, 2010.
Ryan was a fit and healthy 16-year-old when he was struck down with meningitis. A keen sportsman, Ryan ‘embraced life with charm and personality, living every moment to the full.’
On March 30, 2010, Ryan complained of a stomach ache and still felt unwell the next morning. Within an hour of waking up, he was unconscious and despite being rushed to hospital and doctors’ efforts, nothing could be done to save him.
“Our lives changed on March 31, 2010 and the events surrounding that day will stay with us forever,” Michelle said.
“Our ultimate dream is to see an end to suffering caused by meningitis and for no parent to have to lose their son or daughter to this brutal disease.
“You never fully recover from this kind of tragedy but we take comfort in celebrating his life and turning our tragedy into something positive. We believe Ryan would be proud.”
Teygan Sugrue: Missed immeasurably
Ailsa Sugrue’s son Teygan, 19, was embarking on a new adventure; making new friends and studying his favourite language, when he was cruelly struck down by meningitis.
Ailsa said: “Today, as a family, we are united in our grief and shock at what has happened. No one had any real awareness of the risks of meningitis at university, neither family nor friends.
“Now, with the help of my family and friends, I want to do as much as I’m able to raise awareness of this terrible disease at university especially.
“So many people have expressed their shock to me at the sudden loss of our son to a disease that they thought was associated with the very young.
“I realise now that we have to change this perception and make it one of the first things families think of when a student starts preparing for university.
“As a family we are so lost without Teygan and miss everything about him, including his trademark quirkiness and dry sense of humour. He will be missed immeasurably and life without him now means we will never experience the sense of complete happiness.
“But, supporting research through fundraising and raising awareness means we can keep him in our lives.”
Read the full story here: https://www.meningitisnow.org/support-us/news-centre/meningitis-stories/teygans-story/.
Izzy Gentry: A father’s heartache
Paul Gentry’s daughter Isabel, known to all her friends as “Izzy”, was a 16-year-old girl who was at the beginning of her adult life.
“She was loving, caring, funny, an amazing friend and more,” said Paul.
“From the age of eight years old she always said that she wanted to be a midwife and care for children. She would often talk about how she was going to progress onto university.
“Words cannot describe the pain and loss that we are all feeling at losing Izzy. Not a moment passes without thinking about her. I do not think that the pain will ever go away, but eventually we will find a way to cope with it.
“We cannot bring Izzy back and she would not want us to give up on life and grieve for her. I do not want Izzy’s death to have been in vain, she had no choice about what happened and it would be disrespectful to just waste my life.
“To that end, I am going to do all I can to prevent such tragedy happening to another family, through sharing Izzy’s story and developing awareness of this cruel disease.
“I will be doing this in memory of Izzy and I know she will be with me all the way.”
Read the full story here: https://www.meningitisnow.org/support-us/news-centre/news-stories/fathers-heartache/.
Emily Styles: Whole life ahead of her
Nineteen-year-old teaching assistant, Emily Styles, had her whole life ahead of her when she was suddenly struck down with meningococcal meningitis on New Year’s Eve 2013.
Unfortunately, Emily never got the chance to live her dreams of becoming a special needs teacher, and died just hours later on New Year’s Day.
Her mother Julia said: “We have so many wonderful happy memories from the moment Emily came into the world two weeks early at the end of March 1994, but she had so much more to give and our immeasurable loss is for all that was yet to come.
“She would have been a brilliant teacher, wife and mummy, but sadly was denied these chances to shine.
“She also had fantastic and brave personal qualities: kindness, empathy and thoughtfulness for others, especially those who needed a friend or a kind word. She was determined to do what she thought was right and achieve her goals.
“We miss Emily so very much, the pain is immeasurable, but Emily would want us to live our lives in her memory and achieve things for ourselves and others.”