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How tragedy inspired Norwich City councillor's charity mission

PUBLISHED: 06:30 05 December 2011 | UPDATED: 10:24 05 December 2011

Victoria MacDonald has a helping hand from son Alastair in preparation for her charity bike ride.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Victoria MacDonald has a helping hand from son Alastair in preparation for her charity bike ride. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

A leading Norwich city councillor whose husband died from meningitis has embarked on a campaign to raise funds for charity and increase awareness of the disease, as the anniversary of his death approaches.

Victoria MacDonald’s husband, Andrew Barrows, died from pneumococcal meningitis as the family celebrated Christmas and she is now planning to cycle 30 miles in his memory to raise money for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Mrs MacDonald, 40, will be taking part in a 30-mile bike ride from Hethersett through Old Buckenham, New Buckenham, Tacolneston and Mulbarton in March next year. She has also written a moving article for the Meningitis Research Foundation website about the trauma of losing her husband on December 27 nine years ago.

Mrs MacDonald who lives in Greenways, Eaton, with her current husband Grahame and sons Alastair, 11, who was just two when Andrew died, and Toby, four, said: “I just wanted to do something to raise money for Meningitis Research. We are trying to raise money to get a vaccine, but it might be quite expensive.

“A huge number of people have their lives ripped apart by it.”

She added: “You have got to be over 18 otherwise Alastair would have loved to do the bike ride with me.”

Mrs MacDonald, who is the city councillor for Lakenham and cabinet member for housing, said she was inspired to fundraise after seeing other people taking part in events for charity.

She said Andrew, who was a solicitor, first started to feel unwell on Christmas day.

“Towards the early evening, Andrew had a temperature and was vomiting.

“Andrew was 47, went to the gym, didn’t smoke and wasn’t overweight. Meningitis was the last thing on my mind.

“However, the previous Christmas Andrew had suffered glandular fever so his immune system was low.”

A doctor came out to see him on Boxing Day and believed he had picked up a bug.

Mrs MacDonald said that Andrew seemed better in the evening, but was confused and said he ached all over.

The following morning he was covered in a deep red rash and began fitting. Mrs MacDonald called an ambulance, but paramedics were unable to save him.

“It was 40 hours between him getting a headache and dying.

“It was a long time before we got the certificate of death. Andrew died on December 27 and we got the certificate on Valentine’s day.”

The couple lived in Ely, Cambridgeshire, at the time of Andrew’s death.

Mrs MacDonald is urging people to ask questions about the disease.

She said: “There’s a lot of awareness of meningitis among children, but when it’s an adult, you think it’s just a bug. I don’t blame the doctor at all.

“You think ‘why didn’t I ask questions?’. Asking questions is the difference between being given paracetamol and hydration tablets instead of antibiotics.

“It took a long time to get the cause of death, but it was finally confirmed as pneumococcal bacteria resulting in septicaemia, causing complete organ failure.

“I wish I had been aware that glandular fever could put Andrew at risk and that no rash does not mean it is not meningitis or septicaemia.

“I was very angry that I hadn’t thought of meningitis – my mother had contracted it as a baby and had lost her hearing as a result, but I didn’t think it would happen to a man in the prime of his life.”

Although the festive season brings back memories, Mrs MacDonald stays strong for her children.

“The first few years were very tough especially when you have a son who couldn’t put the two together. We celebrate Christmas now, but I wake up on December 27 and I remember that time nine years ago.

“My son Alastair is the spitting image of his dad. You learn to live with it. I am very lucky that I have two wonderful boys.”

To donate, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/victoriamacdonald3

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