Belfast Telegraph

Family in walk to battle killer disease

by Fiona Rutherford

Heartbroken parents Mark and Joanne Elliott are helping to launch a major fundraising drive to combat the disease which took their son’s life.

Mark, nicknamed ‘Sparky’ was weeks from his 20th birthday when he died last November after contracting an infection believed to be meningitis.

A student at the Millfield campus of Belfast Metropolitan College, Mark wanted to become a physiotherapist and was a fitness fanatic, playing for Newtownbreda FC.

He died within three hours of being rushed to hospital, after his mum found him unconscious on the floor of their home in the Ravenhill area.

Now local people are being invited to join his friends and family in a walk organised by Meningitis UK to raise money to find a vaccine for the disease.

The walk covers 201 miles from Londonderry to Rostrevor, calling at Belfast and Dundonald between May 28 and June 5 and people are invited to join in at any stage along the route.

Joanne and Mark believe a vaccine to protect against meningitis and its associated diseases is the best way to safeguard lives in the future, such was the speed and virulence at which it claimed their son’s life. Joanne said: “It took Mark from us in a few hours. He was such a happy and healthy young man. He played football on the Tuesday and then came home from work feeling really sick and achy the next day.

“We thought he’d caught the cold his brother had the week before but he soon got a lot worse.”

Mark was rushed to the City Hospital where a scan showed that his brain was swollen with fluid.

After an agonising three hour wait doctors told them the terrible news that Mark wouldn’t pull through.

Joanne said: “It happened so quickly. I don’t think people realise the speed at which meningitis strikes, plus its symptoms are so similar to the cold and flu that it’s difficult to diagnose.

“We really hope that people will support this walk and help to raise money towards vaccine research. It’s such a terrible disease and we all have a duty to help fight it.”

The aim is to raise £50,000 in total with all money raised going towards Meningitis UK’s Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign to eradicate the deadly disease.

Steve Dayman, the founder of Meningitis UK, who lost his son Spencer to meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia, will be walking the entire 201-mile route from May 28 to June 5.

After covering some 12,000 miles and raising over £1.8million, Steve is calling it a day and hopes for good local support as he completes his final trek.

“In addition to raising money towards our vital vaccine research work, we’re hoping to raise valuable awareness,” he said.

“Just one mile would make a difference and enable us to make a significant contribution to vaccine development, so please come and join us for any stage of this picturesque journey.”

Anyone can join the walk at any time and for any distance. Details of the route on www.meningitisuk.org or from Emily Mitchard on 0117 373 73 73, email emilymitchard@meningitisuk.org

Belfast Telegraph

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