Victims unite against killer bug

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Derry parents who lost their baby son to a killer bug are backing a crusade for a new lifesaving new vaccine to be given to children.

Emma and Darren Cowey’s nine-month-old son Jamie died of meningitis less than 24 hours after his first symptom developed. Jamie died from meningococcal septicaemia in November 2004. Now his parents are backing a campaign to have a revolutionary new lifesaving drug included in the Routine Childhood Immunisation Schedule, so children will receive it through the NHS. Bexsero, is the first Meningitis B vaccine licensed for use in the UK and could save thousands of lives - especially among the under fives, who are most at risk from the disease.

Emma and Darren, of Tullyally, have united with other families touched by the killer disease - including Killaloo woman Gemma Crawford (21) - in the ‘Beat It Now’ campaign to ensure lives are saved. Emma (33), who along with her husband has been raising awareness of meningitis since tragedy struck them, said: “We wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else – it devastated our lives and the lives of our family and friends. If the vaccine received Government backing, it would give a meaning to everything we have been fighting for during the last seven years.”

Infant Jamie’s succumbed to the killer disease hours after being sent home from a doctor’s surgery. At around 4pm they were told to go home and ring back if the baby got worse. Less than two hours later, Jamie started to vomit and seemed thirsty but could not keep his bottle down. They went to the local hospital but Jamie was not admitted until 10pm.

Doctors diagnosed meningitis and transferred Jamie to another hospital. “We were sat down and the doctors told us that Jamie had suffered a massive heart attack,” Emma explained. “At about 11am doctors said he could fight no more. We told him to be so brave and kissed his tiny head – Jamie’s heart stopped at 11.10am.”

Survivor Gemma Crawford fell ill during Christmas 2008 with flu-like symptoms, including a severe sore throat, which worsened when she struggled to walk. A purple rash then developed across her legs. Her mum Valerie called an ambulance but by the time she reached hospital she was unconscious.

Gemma was diagnosed with meningococcal septicaemia and given antibiotics to fight the infection. She left hospital 11 days later but had to use a wheelchair and zimmer frame. She has now fully recovered, going on to pass her driving test and take part in a charity walk to raise awareness of the cruel disease.

Gemma, who is expecting her first baby in February, said: “At least I was able to tell my mum how I felt and she was able to get help. It’s brilliant there’s a vaccine but it will only have an impact if it’s introduced into the childhood immunisation programme. The vaccine will then save so many lives.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who advise the Government on vaccination, will decide whether the Meningitis B vaccine should be in the schedule and what age groups should receive it.

They are due to consider the vaccine in summer this year.