A bubbly young woman went to bed to sleep off the symptoms of an ongoing cold, and tragically never woke up.
23-year-old Abigail Harris from Cheltenham had been suffering from cold-like symptoms for some months, and had not known she had contracted a Meningococcal menigitis, a bacterial form of meningitis which would lead to her brain being fatally damaged.
On March 27, Abigail made the decision to go to hospital due to pain in her wrist. Here, she was given a diagnosis of tendinitis – tendon inflammation – and told to rest.
That very evening, Abigail got in touch with her paramedic practitioner aunt, Fiona Scarlett, to seek advice for her symptoms, and explained she had been having difficulty breathing.
Fiona suggested that her niece get her symptoms checked over at the hospital. However, despite being worried, Abigail appeared to think it could wait until the following day.
Fiona told Gloucestershire Live:
She said she couldn’t drive to hospital due to her wrist hurting so I told her to get her boyfriend Kieron to take her.
But she hadn’t told him how bad she felt and he’d gone to bed. She didn’t want to bother him. She said she’d try to go to sleep. We left it there.
Just six hours after speaking with her aunt through text message, Abigail was rushed to hospital by her boyfriend Kieron, who had found her fitting and unresponsive.
While in intensive care, doctors discovered a rash on the inside of one of Abigail’s knees, and began treating her for meningitis.
On March 29, Abigail – a talented and beloved young woman who loved to help others – was pronounced brain dead. The next day, in accordance with her wishes, Abigail’s organs were donated and she passed away.
Abigail’s family are now honouring her memory by fundraising for the charity Meningitis Now. They are also working to encourage parents to ensure their teenagers have had the MenACWY vaccine, a vaccination offering protection against four separate strains of meningococcal bacteria.
Writing on Abigail’s Just Giving page, which has already raised over £4,000, her aunt Fiona has written the following message:
Since wide spread vaccination (ACWY strain) was introduced for young people (age 14\15) a few years ago in 2015, the incidence of this disease has reduced. It’s not talked about quite as much as it was. Even the consultant said they don’t really see it like this anymore.
While I am not advocating going to hospital for cold symptoms, there was clearly something more she was worried about with a myriad of vague systemic, unrelated symptoms, that when you hear all of them you realise that it wasn’t just a cold. Get your teens vaccinated if you can. It does save lives.
Abs was a shining example to the world. I am going to miss her so much, she had a sparkling, attractive personality, drawing people to her. I am going to endeavour to live my life more in the way she lived hers, with a zest, a joy, taking every opportunity and grabbing it.
I am totally devastated for her parents, for me, for the rest of the family and also her friends. She has left a hole in my heart and my life that can never be filled. The world is a little bit darker. But through donation, other families lives will be filled with light and love and laughter once more. She will change the world for others and their families.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Abigail Harris at this difficult time.
You can make a donation to Abigail’s Just Giving page here.
Find out more about Meningitis Now, the charity Abigail’s Just Giving page is supporting, here.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.