‘My daughter died from meningitis – but it wasn’t in vain’

Deidre Fredericks lost her daughter to meningitis. This is her story of loss and hope.

30 July 2015
by Ruth Rehbock

“I am a mother of two girls. However, one of them is now an angel,” relates Deidre Fredericks, the founder of the Meningitis Association of South Africa. “In 2010, I was shaken to the core of my existence by the sudden death of my daughter Chelsea, who died of meningococcal meningitis at only three years of age.”

However, this awful loss gave Deidre’s life new meaning. As a coping mechanism and in order to understand what happened to her family, she founded the Meningitis Association of South Africa after the death of her daughter. It is her mission to ensure that other parents don’t have to face the trauma of losing a child by educating South Africans about this disease and its symptoms.

A sudden loss

“What’s so alarming about meningococcal meningitis is that it progresses incredibly rapidly,” says Deidre. “Chelsea started vomiting on Wednesday afternoon, 10 June 2010, and died on the morning of Friday, 11 June 2010. When I walked away from the hospital that morning after her death I wanted to know why Chelsea had died, why so much medical attention could do so little, why the meningitis couldn’t be stopped, how it could be prevented... and no one could answer my questions.

“Everything changed for me after that day. I was in total shock and I couldn't even arrange the funeral. Nothing in life prepares you for the death of a child. I've suffered from depression and have been to counselling on and off. There were days when I couldn’t even remember my name. It felt like nobody understood what I was experiencing.

“My husband, however, helped me through it by reminding me often that we had another daughter to look after – my daughter, Kyra, was seven years old at the time.”

Deidre felt she was offered little support at the time and that there was nobody to give her the information she needed. “I had to go through the whole terrible process alone. The horror of meningitis is that it can kill within hours, which is devastating and traumatic. If it doesn’t kill, it can still leave its mark in the form of deafness, retardation or another disability.”

New hope

Deidre kept herself busy reading other stories about meningitis on the Internet during that terrible year of loss. Her online research helped her to realise she wasn't alone and that she could offer help to other parents, so she formed the Meningitis Association of South Africa.

In 2011, she was invited to attend a meningitis conference in Paris. “At the conference I met so many parents from other countries whose stories kept me going. We were all determined to fight meningitis together.”

Fredericks gave birth to a son, Kade, in January 2013. “He is our blessing and in his own way is helping us to heal. Chelsea is still part of our daily lives, she is just staying with God. Every day has been a struggle to survive emotionally, but we are managing better these days.”

Know the symptoms of meningitis

Because meningitis can kill so quickly, it’s critical that parents and caregivers know the symptoms, says Deidre. These include feeling poorly, a sudden, high fever, persistent and severe headache, sensitivity to bright light, stiffness in the neck, nausea and vomiting, being disorientated, and feeling drowsy or sluggish.

Deidre is currently fighting to get the pneumococcal vaccine (protects young children against meningococcal meningitis) made part of the SA Government’s vaccination schedule.

For more info

Email [email protected] or visit the Join Hands in the Fight against Meningitis Facebook page.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Baby immunisations are available at Clicks clinics, including for meningitis. Stay on track with your little one's immunisations with the Clicks childhood vaccination schedule. To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com