Take time for Terri in fight against meningitis

Terri Devine was just 16 when she developed Meningitis B. She died three days later.
Terri Devine was just 16 when she developed Meningitis B. She died three days later.

Terri Devine was just 16 when her life was cruelly cut short by meningitis just days before Christmas.

The bubbly teenager, who was described by everyone as “full of life and joy”, succumbed to the deadly disease just three days after first complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Now her family, speaking for the first time since her death in 2008, are campaigning to have a new vaccine made available on the NHS which could prevent countless other families going through the heartache they have experienced.

“Terri was doing her mock GCSEs and came in on the Wednesday and said she felt as if she was coming down with the flu or a bad dose,” Marie explained. “Of course there was a bad flu doing the rounds around Strabane and I suppose we thought little more of it and she went to her bed with some paracetamol.”

The following day Terri began to vomit and complain of a severe headache and Marie decided to speak to her local pharmacist who recommended that along with paracetamol Marie give her daughter some Brufen. After that, Marie said Terri seemed to rally.

“She decided to go to her bed for a nap and I spoke to her at about ten past four and she told me she thought the new tablets were helping and she felt a little brighter.”

However just 40 minutes later, when Terri’s father Sean came home the teen had deteriorated. “Sean said he heard this unearthly moaning from her room. The pair were always slagging at each other - he thought initially she was taking the hand but he called me down to her room.

“What I saw won’t leave me - she was making this awful sound, moaning and groaning and was unconscious.”

Terri was rushed to hospital where within a very short time the family were told it was highly likely their daughter had meningitis.

“Even then I didn’t think the worst. I thought maybe how would we cope if she lost a limb, but I never thought the worst.”

Meningitis was confirmed by Friday and as Marie said “everything just went down hill from there”.

“It was hard to come to terms with.

“She was so full of life. She had been at school sitting her exams. She had been out the previous weekend - she had a great time. And just days later she was fighting for her life.”

By Saturday morning the family were told the news they had been dreading - Terri was now brain dead and there was nothing more, despite their best efforts, the medical staff could do to help her.

And yet despite their grief the family decided within minutes to make the hugely generous decision to donate Terri’s organs - helping three others to live.

“It is what Terri would have wanted. We didn’t have to think about it - she wouldn’t have wanted nothing good to come out of her death.”

The family’s only prerequisite for donating was that they would not be left to bury their daughter on Christmas Day. “We just didn’t want to face that - so we asked them to either act quickly or let us wait until after Christmas.”

The transplant team were able to arrive in Derry on Saturday evening and through the course of that night and Sunday morning they removed Terri’s kidneys and liver.

Terri’s remains were returned to her home in Strabane on Sunday evening and just as they arrived at the house, Marie received a call from the transplant co-ordinator to tell her a 10 month-old baby, 13 year-old boy and 31 year-old woman had benefitted from their generosity.

“I have never regretted that decision and I don’t think I ever will,” Marie said. “It has brought me a lot of comfort to know that those who received Terri’s organs are doing well.”

Terri was laid to rest on December 23, with hundreds attending her funeral and Christmas, understandably, passed in a daze.

“It was hard,” Marie said. “We felt like we should do something but, it was so hard. I think we were all on autopilot.”

As the family struggled to come to terms with their grief they first contacted the Meningitis Research Foundation in Belfast.

“It was then we were told there was a vaccine for Meningitis B - which Terri had - in a very advanced stage of development. Of course, well, I didn’t know how to feel about that at first. If only it had been available and Terri had been vaccinated...”

Still the Devine family threw themselves into fund-raising, raising in excess of £40,000 with the help of family and friends in Terri’s memory and after the first year passed, Marie decided she was strong enough to look more into the vaccine.

“The first year, well, we were just trying to get through it.

“We had to look after ourselves but as time passed I felt stronger and wanted to raise awareness of the vaccine and campaign for it so that no other family would have to go through what we have gone through.”

In January of this year the vaccine, Bexsero, was approved for use by the NHS however it has not yet been introduced as part of the vaccine programme. A decision is due to be made on this issue in June when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) meet to discuss the issue.

The Devine family are determined to put as much pressure as possible on the decision makers to have this vaccine introduced as part of the routine vaccination programme.

“It shouldn’t come down to cost,” Marie said. “We lost out daughter and we have heard so many stories of others who have lost their children who needn’t have - because a vaccine is now available.”

The family have set up an online petition at www.timeforterri.co.uk and are encouraging everyone to “take just one minute” to sign it. “We can’t get Terri back, but we can help others,” Marie said.

For more info on meningitis visit www. meningitis.org