My name is Amalia Vitiello and I am a mother who lives with the torment of losing her daughter. My little angel’s name is Alessia and she was only 18 months old when, six years ago, a horrible disease took her away: meningitis.
Alessia was a wonderful child. Every parent thinks that their children are special, but she really was.
She was a sunny baby, always smiling and, although she was so young, she was able to spread love. She often spontaneously caressed my face and then with her sweet voice she said to me: “bene mamma cara cara”, by which she meant “I love you”.
I felt strong and almost invincible near her. I told everybody that since Alessia was born I wasn’t afraid of anything, because the world around me could fall down but if I was holding my daughter in my arms I’d have been happy anyway – even without a house or a job.
However I have left that world behind now. It felt as though life stopped in her absence. I was devastated until new lives arrived in mine. Alessia’s sister gave me the strength to restart, even though a part of my heart will always remain switched off.
Alessia was advanced in every way, perhaps she knew she had to do everything with more haste than others as she had so little time ahead of her.
She started to walk when she was 11 months old, to say ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ when she was six months, and when she was 18 months she was already able to make herself understood.
She loved drawing. I keep every sketch she did. She always drew butterflies of every colour and one of them became a part of the emblem of the association we established in her memory.
Alessia was always healthy, except for the occasional cold. On that fateful day, 19 October 2007, it all began with mild fever, which – after just two or three hours – started to rocket and never came back down. During the night the temperature reached 41°C. Within 11 hours meningitis carried her away.
At 6am, while holding her in my arms in the car on the way to hospital, I looked at her crying and said to her “please don’t leave me”, I don’t know why but I knew inside me that she wouldn’t be coming home with us.
On that day I felt unspeakably powerless.
Alessia was affected by sepsis caused by Meningococcal B (Waterhouse–Friderichsen syndrome). After her death I felt pain so deep you cannot imagine.
As often I say, I am very happy that meningitis is vaccine-preventable.
I wish Alessia had the chance of life that others have. When this disease strikes, it doesn’t give you time to do research and try to find a remedy so the only way to stop it is through prevention.
Being the mother of two other daughters, and having had this terrible experience, the fear is always with me. Every time one of my daughters has a temperature above 39°C the tension rises.
My husband and I start to phone every paediatrician we know, because getting just one medical opinion seems insufficient to us now given the previous experience we have endured.
It is frightening. A real psychosis is born out of fear and we continuously monitor our kids, concerned about every little spot that appears.
My husband regularly checks the kids’ necks, worrying about stiffness and other notorious signs of the disease. Obviously if they have a temperature which doesn’t fall with fever-reducing medication, we wait for two hours at most and then we rush to the hospital.
We’ll take this fear with us forever.
Yesterday, myself, my husband and our two daughters were vaccinated.
I felt a sense of relief because now we can protect ourselves against meningitis. At the same time I felt a deep sense of sadness thinking that I wasn’t able to give Alessia this “offering of life”.
So, while my little daughters, aged 3 and 5 years, cried when the vaccine was injected, I explained to them that their little pain goes away in a moment but, in return, the vaccine will save their lives.
They asked me which disease could be defeated by the vaccine. With simple words I tried to explain something about it, that the disease had turned their little sister into an angel. Alessia wasn’t given the vaccine because it hadn’t been discovered when she was their age.
The response of the baby aged 3 years was significant. With tears she said to me: “Mummy, you could say that the vaccine is a good thing and will make me invincible – but I thought it was just a bad thing because I don’t like jabs.” And she stopped crying!!
Today I am the President of the Italian National Committee Against Meningitis (the only one in Italy) and I am Vice President of the non-profit association “Alessia and her Angels”. Through this role I’d like for every parent to be able to consciously choose to vaccinate their children.
I’d like for them to make this choice having been adequately informed – not basing important decisions on erroneous information absorbed from “do-it-yourself” websites or by listening to a friend’s suggestions.
Medical doctors, first and foremost, should inform parents about the risks linked to the disease, about symptoms and about the possibility of avoiding the illness through vaccination.
I’d like to see meningitis defeated.
Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. The most common symptoms are headache, fever, neck stiffness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate bright light and loud noises. Bacterial meningitis which is accompanied by septicemia (blood poisoning) can also be accompanied by a characteristic rash.
Meningitis can lead to serious long-term consequences such as hearing loss, epilepsy, hydrocephalus and learning difficulties. Early treatment reduces the risk of complications.
The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections which, although unpleasant, do not usually result in any lasting after effects. However, bacterial meningitis infections are extremely serious, and may result in death or brain damage, even if treated.
Meningitis is a emergency and requires urgent medical attention. Treatment will depend upon the cause of meningitis but may include antibiotics or antiviral drugs as well as oxygen, intravenous fluids and steroids to limit complications.
Is it preventable?
Immunisation can prevent some forms of meningitis but vaccines are not yet available to address all types.
Vaccines targeting some meningoccal, pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) bacterial infections, and also the mumps virus have been used effectively in immunisation campaigns across the world.