A 10-year-old boy who survived a potentially deadly bout of meninigitis is fronting a winter campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms which more often develop in the colder months and which are difficult to spot.
Jothi Brown was just 18-months-old when he became very ill with pneumococcal meningitis and sepsis after his parents refused to accept an initial diagnosis that it was just a virus and took him back to hospital.
His life was saved but Jothi then had a series of painful operations on his legs after the illness damaged the growth plates in his knees and ankles.
The family, who are originally from Melton and have a number of relatives and friends living in the borough, are keen that other families do not go through the ordeal they have faced.
They are leading the Meningitis Research Foundation’s (MRF) campaign now as there are three times more cases of bacterial meningitis in winter than in summer and illnesses, like flu, are thought to enable meningitis, causing bacteria to invade the body more easily through the nose and throat and spread more rapidly when people spend longer periods together indoors.
Jothi’s dad, Jeff, recalled the devastating period his family went through with his son’s serious illness after he and wife, Bharathi, decided to take him to A&E in the early hours of the morning: “When we reached the hospital the doctors took one look at Jothi and all hell broke loose.
“More staff arrived and they worked urgently to save Jothi’s life which by now was hanging by a thread.
“He was then transferred in an ambulance to the Evelina Children’s hospital in London.
“Jothi’s condition remained life-threatening as he had multi-organ failure and severe sepsis but he fought his way through the crucial period and gradually started to improve.”
The couple had before that taken their son four times to either a GP or to hospital.
Each time they were told that it was likely to be a virus and to bring him back if he wasn’t better in a few days.
But Jothi eventually vomited, developed a very high temperature, had a high-pitched cry and very cold feet and hands.
Jeff and Bharathi trusted their instincts and they returned to the hospital when pneumococcal meningitis and sepsis was finally diagnosed.
When he came out of hospital three weeks later, Jothi had lost the ability to walk and could not even hold his head up.
It took him several months to regain his strength and to re-learn to sit up, crawl and walk.
Initially, he seemed to make a remarkable recovery, but five years later his parents noticed he was limping and his legs were bending a little.
It turned out that the meningitis and sepsis had damaged the growth plates which was hampering the growth of his legs.
Jothi had two major surgeries that involved separately breaking both legs and placing them in a metal frame to straighten and lengthen them.
Jothi will need these operations on his legs and left thigh every two to three years until he stops growing. The family, which has now relocated to Hertfordshire, have adapted their home to help him and must take many days off work to support him.
Jeff, who has written a book about the family’s ordeal with 80 per cent of the proceeds going to MRF, added: “Meningitis is a life-changer and a life-finisher.
“It moves quickly and can be difficult to detect with a devastating impact.
“The disease has changed our lives forever.
“The leg breaking and stretching operations that Jothi has to undergo are hugely painful and stressful, and significantly limit his mobility, his ability to go to school and activities with his friends.”
Vinny Smith, chief executive of MRF thanked Jothi and his family for supporitng the winter fundraising and awareness campaign.
He said: “While younger children, babies and teenagers are most vulnerable to meningitis, all ages are at risk.
“Sadly we see even more individuals and families affected by it during winter, particularly around Christmas, but it can be difficult to recognise at first.
“Even a doctor may not be able to diagnose it in the early stages, which is why it’s so important for everyone to know the symptoms and for parents to trust their instincts.
“If you, or someone you know is ill and getting rapidly worse, people should not be afraid to seek urgent medical help - even if they’ve already been seen by a doctor that same day.”
The charity needs donations to support research into understanding if people with wintertime infections, like flu, are more likely to carry high numbers of meningitis bacteria and therefore be more infectious.
Visit meningitis.org/12days to find out more and to donate.
Early symptoms of meningitis are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell.
Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.