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Meningitis survivor to host awareness event

September 11, 2017

A meningitis awareness event to be held in Crossmaglen Rangers GFC later this month will be hosted by a young footballer from the club who is continuing to recover from a deadly strain of the illness he contracted in December last year.

Nineteen-year-old Ruairi O’Neill had just returned home to Crossmaglen, having completed his first term at St. Mary’s University College in Belfast, when he suddenly took ill.  A member of the Crossmaglen Rangers U21 side that won the county championship just weeks earlier, Ruairi had enjoyed the celebrations and was looking forward to spending Christmas with his family.

Speaking on BBC radio’s Talkback programme on Wednesday, Ruairi, with his mum Gabrielle, shared his story and recalled how a minor fever developed into a life-threatening illness in the space of just a few hours.

Recalling the lead up to his illness, Ruairi explained: “It all kicked off on December 9th (Friday) after winning the U21 championship.  I partied hard during the week and towards the end of the week I was finished up for Christmas and saying to my mother, father and family that this was going to be the best one ever,” as his older sister Tara was returning from Sweden for the holidays.

“It was just going to be the best ever, to have everyone back together.  We’re not thinking about the materialism end of things, just to enjoy each other’s company,” he said.

Recalling the days leading up to his illness, Ruairi explained: “It all kicked off on December 9th (Friday) after winning the U21 championship.  I partied hard during the week and towards the end of the week I was finished up for Christmas and saying to my mother, father and family that this was going to be the best one ever,” as his older sister Tara was returning from Sweden for the holidays.

Ruairi O’Neill celebrates Crossmaglen Rangers’ U21 Championship triumph with his father Kevin.

“It was just going to be the best ever, to have everyone back together.  We’re not thinking about the materialism end of things, just to enjoy each other’s company,” he said.

It was Friday 16th December when Ruairi returned home from Belfast and, feeling exhausted, went straight to bed.  The following morning he awoke with a fever and flu-like symptoms but attended a fundraising event at his club, before returning home around 2pm.

His mother Gabrielle, a nurse, picked up story and described how his seemingly innocuous symptoms soon spiralled: “I gave him two paracetamol when he got home before he went to bed where he slept sound until about 5.30pm,” she recalled.

“He got up and while he had all those symptoms before, they had settled down again, there was nothing to see.

“An hour and a half later he had a bite to eat with us and that was when he started to vomit. I thought ‘we all had the same to eat, nobody else was feeling like this’.  His temperature started rising again; I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was something not right.”

Gabrielle said they were keeping a watchful eye on young Ruairi through the night when around 2.30am, his father Kevin found him soaked in sweat and unresponsive.

 “So I went in and shook him and he was only responding to stimuli – a point in his chest you can push to get a jolt,” she explained.

“I rang Out of Hours and they were fantastic. They were going to blue light him but we were 17 miles from Daisy Hill, we didn’t have time.  At this point they asked us to check him from head-to-toe and it was then we saw he had black spots on his arms, legs and around his belly button; it was septicaemia – he was slipping into a coma.”

Ruairi had contracted a deadly strain of meningitis and spent several days in a coma in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.  Miraculously, however, he responded well to treatment and was well enough to return home from hospital on Christmas Day. 

Since then, Ruairi has worked hard on returning to full health and eventually rejoining his teammates on the football field.

Gabrielle says the family are extremely grateful for Ruairi’s continued recovery and are keen to raise awareness of meningitis and the speed at which it can strike. 

“We will never know how or why he contracted it.  The suddenness of it all, him literally fading away in front of me in Daisy Hill hospital.  If we can avoid another family having to witness this, it will be all worthwhile,” she said. 

On Saturday 24th September, Ruairi and his family will host a meningitis awareness event in Crossmaglen Rangers GFC from 9.30am to 1.30pm.  Information and advice on meningitis will be available and donations can be made to Meningitis Research.  Refreshments will be served and everyone is welcome to attend.

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