Life

By James Somper

 

A teaching assistant who lost a hand, toes and five fingers after catching deadly bacterial meningitis has said she feared the condition would stop her being a mum to her two daughters.

Jo Arnold, 49, now uses a prosthetic hand after losing half of her left hand, five fingers on her right hand and all of her toes after she was struck down with the deadly condition – which she first thought was just a sickness big.

Jo, from Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, says her life was turned upside down by the condition after she had to relearn how to walk and talk again.

The mum-of-two is now speaking out to raise awareness about how adults and not just children are also vulnerable to developing meningitis.

She said: “It turned my life upside down.

“The actual reality of what’s happened doesn’t hit home until you leave hospital.

“I came home and was reminded of my life now and my life before. I couldn’t do anything for myself anymore.

“It’s been hard work, I’ve had to completely rebuild my life and relearn how to do things in a different way.

“I had to relearn how to walk and talk again.

She said: “Going shopping, picking things up from shelves became a trial. I had to pretty much relearn how to do all these things.

“The hardest thing was coming out of hospital and not being able to help my children.”

Jo’s illness began after she developed what she thought was a sickness bug.

She said: “I went to school like any other day, I started to get a headache and by break time it was really bad.

“I stayed for the day, went to bed and then I woke up in the early hours of Tuesday morning and had sickness and diarrhoea. I phoned a colleague who said one of the children had had a sickness bug so I thought I’d got it.

“I still had it the following day and asked my mum to take the kids to school.

“Katie wouldn’t go to school because she was worried about me.

“The sickness and diarrhoea continued, then stiffness and photophobia. I thought these were possible signs of meningitis.”

Jo was rushed to hospital by paramedics after her mother Josephine thought she was deteriorating and was placed in an induced coma.

She lost her left hand, toes and the fingers on her right had after septicaemia turned them black.

Her muscle tone had also wasted away meaning she had to relearn how to walk and speak after she left hospital four months later.

Jo said: “I had a tracheotomy so I couldn’t speak and also massive muscle wastage so I could hardly walk.

“I didn’t realise the extent of what had happened or the affect on my life until I left hospital.

“In hospital you have nurses looking after you, doing your washing and making your tea, you don’t think about the small things.

Jo gradually relearned to speak and walk but also how to do simple tasks like brushing her hair or opening a door.

Five years on, she said that picking up her phone, using her straighteners or taking money from a cash machine can prove to be a real struggle due to the lack of grip she has from her prosthetic hand..

She said: “Going shopping, picking things up from shelves became a trial. I had to pretty much relearn how to do all these things.

“The hardest thing was coming out of hospital and not being able to help my children.

“Now though I walk fine, I drive, I work part time at the school.

“I don’t have any carers, I still do the same thing just in a different way.

“Some things are virtually impossible like getting cash out of a cash machine, I don’t have much grip so often I can’t get the money out.

“Trying to use hair straighteners or use a potato peeler is also a huge problem.”

Jo said despite the challenges she faces she still has a clear message for people.

She said: “I’m lucky to have survived.

“People associate meningitis with children but it’s adults too. I was aware of the symptoms for children but not for me.

“It could be you that has meningitis as an adult, when I was lying in hospital I never thought I’d get it.”