How Meningococcal affects your body. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
How Meningococcal affects your body. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

Shock impact meningococcal had on Sarah’s body

WE'VE all heard of meningococcal. It's a horrible disease that many people don't survive and those who do can be left with permanent disabilities.

A lot of people regard children as being the main group affected by meningococcal but anyone who isn't vaccinated is at risk.

Sarah Joyce was 30 years old when she contracted the disease that almost killed her and saw her lose four organs and go through multiple amputations.

When the Central Coast woman first became sick two years ago while visiting her parents, she had no idea that in a few short hours her family would be saying their goodbyes.

"I felt a bit off and assumed I had a head cold. I went to my parent's house for dinner and within hours I was vomiting and burning up with fevers reaching 41 degrees," Sarah told news.com.au.

She had to be placed in life support when she got to the hospital. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
She had to be placed in life support when she got to the hospital. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

"I couldn't look at light and had very severe headaches. My face was also very swollen and I had a pin prick rash around my eye lids and my neck also hurt."

As her condition rapidly worsened, Sarah's dad called their after hours GP but when no doctor could make a call out they decided to take her to a hospital - a decision that saved her life.

When they got to the hospital Sarah wasn't showing any signs of the distinctive purple rash that comes with meningococcal and the only way to confirm what was wrong with her was to take a sample of her spinal fluid by doing a lumbar puncture.

"I began to deteriorate and after the lumbar puncture, I looked at my legs and I saw a purple rash. I knew I was in trouble," she said.

"Within minutes I was in the resuscitation room as my body was shutting down very fast."

A purple blotchy rash is a sign of the deadly disease. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
A purple blotchy rash is a sign of the deadly disease. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

The doctor informed Sarah's family that it was unlikely she would survive the next 48 hours.

"My dad, mum and sister all hugged and kissed me before I went into a coma. They were saying goodbye," Sarah said.

"That is something I will never forget and neither will they."

The only chance of keeping Sarah alive was to place her on life support and a few days after the initial diagnosis they discovered that she had the W strain of meningococcal septicaemia.

This is one of the most deadly strains of the disease as it poisons the blood and can lead to death within hours.

The disease was quickly shutting down Sarah's organs so doctors needed to work even faster to fight it.

Before every new procedure Sarah's family were told to say their goodbyes all over again because it was never certain that she would make it out alive.

Sarah’s nose, fingers and toes turned black. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
Sarah’s nose, fingers and toes turned black. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

After eight days on life support Sarah woke up unable to move her body.

"My hands and feet were contracted and black. My nose was black and my eye lids were swollen and had blood blisters," she said.

"I was on dialysis 24/7 as my kidneys shut down. I could not walk, I could not feed myself, I literally couldn't do anything."

The disease had ravaged her system.

Weighing just 43 kilograms Sarah had to learn to walk again, a task she described as "excruciatingly" painful.

Sarah is 32 now and in those two years she has had 23 operations, lost four major organs and has been back on life support four times.

"The treatments I have undergone include the removal of my spleen and gall bladder as they were badly damaged by the infection and amputations of three fingers and 6 toes."

She went from being a healthy 30-year-old woman. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
She went from being a healthy 30-year-old woman. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

 

To losing 20 kilograms and being unable to walk. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
To losing 20 kilograms and being unable to walk. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

She still suffers from chronic pain, damage to her pancreas and liver and now has an ileostomy due to 80 per cent of her large bowel being removed.

She also has to have multiple tubes inserted into the chest and stomach for dialysis twice a week as the disease ruined her kidneys.

"There have been many times that I wanted to quit. I struggled to see how my life could ever be good. But, I am here. Other's have not been as lucky as I have," Sarah said.

Sarah is now sharing her story to raise awareness that anyone of any age can get meningococcal and that vaccination is imperative to stopping more people suffering.

Sarah now undergoes dialysis twice a week. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied
Sarah now undergoes dialysis twice a week. Picture: Sarah Joyce/Supplied

"Many people ask me how I got meningococcal. The answer is simple. I was not vaccinated. Why? Because I didn't know I needed to be or that I could be," she said.

"I was 30 years old. The meningococcal vaccines were not around when I was a child. And I hadn't heard much about it. Until I was struck down."

She runs the Sarah's Recovery Facebook page where she shares the most up to date information about the disease, while also giving regular talks about her experience.

There are five main strains of Meningococcal and there are vaccines available for all of them.

Different states offer free vaccination programs for certain strains and age groups.

"The best way to prevent meningococcal disease, is to be fully immunised against all of the five strains," she said.

"It can happen to anyone, any age at any time. It happened to me. Don't let it happen to you."


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