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Mum whose two kids battled meningitis hopes for vaccine programme 'sooner rather than later'

A Meath mum who helplessly watched both her children battle deadly meningitis - seven years apart - says she hopes the government will extend the vaccination programme for the disease's B strain "sooner rather than later".

It's every parent's nightmare, but for Denise and James Brady, that nightmare came true not once, but twice when meningitis hit both their babies.

The Brady family. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

They watched as their tiny son was given the last rites for the Men B strain - the vaccine for which is only available free to children born after October 2016.

At present, the vaccine for the Men C strain is freely available to all children but parents of those born before October 2016 have to fork out up to €300 per child for the Men B shots.

Thousands of people have signed an online petition calling on Health Minister Simon Harris to implement a catch-up programme for all children and teens in light of eleven cases of the disease in recent weeks.

In October 2004, the Brady's were revelling in becoming new parents to one-month premature baby Ryan who was suffering from colic and acid reflux.

"He cried a lot anyway because of the reflux but this day, he was crying even more, nodding off and not feeding well," she said.

"He had a temperature - which I've since been told babies never get unless it's serious - so I gave him Calpol and rang a friend of mine in Temple Street Hospital who checked him for a stiff neck but he seemed fine.

He developed a high pitched cry that night so the doctor told us to take him to Temple Street the next morning, despite him not really having any of the signs of Meningitis.

"However he went downhill rapidly on the way there and a lumbar puncture in hospital confirmed our worst fears of meningococcal meningitis.

"He was placed on antibiotics straightaway and a priest came to give him the last rites. We were told the next 24 hours were crucial and then the following 24 hours.

"Thankfully, his recovery kicked in on day three and after a long stay in hospital, he was able to come home with no side effects. He's now 14 and while he has no recollection of it, we have filled him in on events."

On March 11, 2011, the Ratoath couple welcomed into the world a month early their much sought-after daughter Sarah Ann after a lot of miscarriages and interventions.

"The medical staff knew I was very anxious about meningitis so they gave Sarah Ann a shot of something in the birth canal and then injections for the next two days to try and rid her of any of the deadly bacteria."

But devastation was again to strike the household when the new arrival - became ill at just ten weeks old.

"James had given her a bath while I visited a friend but when I got home, he said she wasn't taking her feed.

"I knew the signs to watch out for so when she developed a temperature and her fontanelle started to bulge, I rang the VHI nurse helpline

I knew, I just knew and as the nurse was asking me questions, I was already packing a bag for Temple Street. I knew something was really wrong but in my head, I just didn't believe we could be that unlucky for meningitis to hit again.

"After Ryan was given the last rites, I had it in my head to get Sarah Ann christened early so she was baptised at seven weeks, just in case.

"Again a lumbar puncture confirmed she had meningitis and she was started on a generic antibiotic right away. Luckily, she was caught early so tests to determine the strain of meningitis came back inconclusive.

"I was told that I might be a carrier of the bacteria in the back of my nose or throat, which emerge as droplets when you sneeze or when you kiss anyone with low immunity."

The Brady family. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Thankfully Sarah Ann made a full recovery and now, at the age of seven, is living life to the full.

"I'd just say to any mum - follow that mother's instinct. Don't doubt yourself and get your child to the hospital as soon as you can. Every second counts with this disease.

"Hopefully the vaccine will be provided by the State sooner rather than later but in the meantime, I absolutely would encourage every parent to explore the option of getting the vaccine.

"It could save the lives of their loved ones.

"I used to think that we were so unlucky to be hit twice with meningitis but now I think how lucky we are to have two children who survived it fully, without losing any limbs."