Jacob’s warning: How a ‘cold’ left me in a coma

Jacob Gray, 23 is learning to walk after having both legs ampulated after meningitis and septicemia
Jacob Gray, 23 is learning to walk after having both legs ampulated after meningitis and septicemia

A hospital worker who shrugged off meningitis as man flu has called on others not to make the same mistake.

Jacob Gray thought he just had a bad cold when he first fell ill and the deadly condition’s main calling card – a rash – didn’t appear until it was almost too late.

Jacob Gray had to re-learn how to walk after losing his lower legs

Jacob Gray had to re-learn how to walk after losing his lower legs

Now the 25-year-old, who lost his lower legs, has opened up about his ordeal in a bid to raise awareness.

Jacob, who lives in Arundel Drive, Carleton, and works as an emergency planner at Royal Preston Hospital, said: “I ignored the symptoms until it all went drastically wrong.”

By the time he finally sought medical advice, his body had been taken over by infection, and he was put into a 15-day coma by medics after stumbling out of an ambulance and into A&E back in 2013. Shortly after he was put on life support and had two blood transfusions.

The then 21-year-old’s chances of survival were rated at less than 10 per cent, and he was expected to be mentally disabled even if he survived.

There’s no one symptom that defines meningitis. A lot of people say if you get the rash get to A&E, but I only got it when I was in A&E

Against all odds, and after his loved ones went through the agony of saying goodbye to him, Jacob pulled through.

But as weeks in hospital turned to months, Jacob lost around 140lbs and had more than 19 operations as surgeons battled to save his badly damaged limbs, which were eventually amputated.

“We never thought it was meningitis initially,” Jacob said. “Every single person I talk to, when they ask me what happened, is shocked that I was 21 and not a child.

“There’s no one symptom that defines meningitis. A lot of people say if you get the rash get to A&E, but I only got it when I was in A&E.”

Jacob is now working with Meningitis Now, which recently issued a hard-hitting warning to other parents to ensure their children take up a lifesaving vaccine against the disease.

The charity’s campaign coincides with a one run by Public Health England to increase vaccination rates among young people.

The Men ACWY vaccine has been offered to all 17 and 18-year-olds, and all university entrants aged 19 to 25, free on the NHS since August 2015 to combat the rise in Men W cases in adolescents. But cases continue to increase in England, from 30 in 2011/12 to 210 in 2015/16.

Meanwhile uptake of the vaccine across the country remains stubbornly low at about one-third of those eligible. One Blackpool teen reported being told she was the only person at her GP surgery to ask about the vaccination.

Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: “Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers and up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population.

“Over 17 per cent of all cases of Men W occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.

“We remain deeply concerned about the low level of vaccine uptake – just 33 per cent last year. It’s vital that young people and their parents are not complacent about the threat of meningitis.

“We urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine.”

Those who are due to leave school this summer, or who are aged 17 or 18 and not in school – born between 1 September 1998 and 31 August 1999 – are now eligible for the vaccine.

They can contact their GP for more details.