THE devastating consequences of encephalitis have been highlighted this week, after a local teenager embarked on an awareness campaign.
Naomi Hargan (17) from Douglas Bridge told of how “a cold sore on the brain” had a life-changing impact on her grandmother Bridie.
Initially it was thought Bridie (76) had the flu in March 2019 when she took ill to her bed. However it soon became clear that the popular local woman’s condition was much worse than first thought as she was becoming frighteningly confused. After a visit by her GP, she was soon hospitalised with encephalitis.
Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, usually caused by an infection. It’s a rare but serious condition and in Bridie’s case it was caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus – which causes coldsores.
Naomi, a year 13 student at Sacred heart College in Omagh explained, “She was in bed and she thought she had the flu. She’d had a cold sore the previous month but we thought nothing of it.
“She lives next door to us and would have been in and out all the time. One time my brother was in and when he came back he said granny is really confused. The GP came out and an ambulance was called. Because the cold sore had lingered so long in her body, it had caused a cold sore on the brain. That caused inflammation in the brain. It was so strange. Granny has a brain injury now and suffers a lot from seizures. She’s been in hospital since she was last admitted in July 2020 and because of Covid we can’t get in to see her.”
Touched by her grand-mother’s plight, the Douglas Bridge teen decided to raise awareness of encephalitis and the devastation the disease can cause.
To that end Naomi is working with Derry City and Strabane District Council to mark World Encephalitis Day on February 22.
“We saw how it affected all of us and I wanted to raise awareness,” Naomi remarked. “We didn’t even know the word because you don’t hear about it very often.”
Naomi’s mum, Jane added, “She (Bridie) was such a fun, outgoing person. She loves her children and grandchildren and she loved being out in the garden. “She lives next door to us, so all the children would have visited their granny every day. The fact we can’t see her now is heartbreaking. It’s devastating when you seen the affect that it had on her and on the whole family.”
She continued, “There’s no word on her getting out of hospital yet. But when she does, she’ll need 24/7 care.”
Naomi recently reached an agreement with council that landmarks in both Strabane and Derry will be lit up red for World Encephalitis Day.
She continued, “There are up to 6,000 cases in the UK each year and potentially hundreds of thousands worldwide. 500,000 people are affected by encephalitis globally each year and 78 per-cent of people across the world do not know what encephalitis is. I thought I would try raise awareness in my local area.”
The land marks to be lit up in red include The Tinnies and council offices in Strabane and the Guildhall and council offices in Derry.
“I would be so grateful if people could go to these landmarks and take pictures of these on Monday February 22 and add it to their social media platforms and add #redforWED. This itself will raise so much awareness.”
Naomi added, “I am doing this all for the most special woman in my life and to raise awareness for encephalitis.”
• For information on the disease log onto www.encephalitis.info