I am 24 years old. It´s been 18 years since I spent two weeks in CHEO (Children´s Hospital of Eastern Ontario). Just completing my kindergarten year at a French Immersion school, I can only recall bits and pieces of the entire experience. Nobody knows how I managed to contract the Meningococcal virus as I was the only one in my school and family to become severely ill. I cannot recall if I fell ill on a weekday or a weekend, although I am sure it must have been a weekday since only 2 of my three siblings weren´t home and my dad being at work. I remember laying on the couch in the livingroom most of the day, repeatedly vomiting into a garbage bin, as I was too tired and weak to get up every time I felt sick. Since we were relatively new to Orleans, my mother didn´t know her way around town very well. I recall her telling me, that after speaking with my dad on the phone, that we were going to the doctor´s office and have me checked out. Aside from the vomiting, I had a fever, which my mother was concerned about. Once at the doctors, I don´t remember much. I was so exhausted, and couldn´t focus properly. The only thing I can really remember is the doctor asking me if I could see my mom, but everything seemed so blurry to me and I just shook my head no. My mom ended up taking me home after that and called my dad to let him know that the doctor wanted me to go to CHEO for some tests. I remember a bit of riding in my dad´s truck with both my parents and from what my mom told me, I slept most of the time, even right through the spinal tap. Tests confirmed that I had contracted Meningococcal Meningitis. I remember waking up at one point where I was in a small room. Everyone was wearing masks, and my parents were there, but I just drifted in and out of consciousness. I don´t really remember at what point I lost my hearing, but due to the high fever I had, my hearing went from perfect to profound.
I have lived as a deafened person for 18 years now. It´s a reminder of how close I came to losing my life. I spent nearly 5 years after losing my hearing in speech therapy since I could no longer hear myself or others speak. I automatically learned how to lip-read, and continue doing so today. My parents and teacher conferred after being released from CHEO, that it would be best for me to transfer to an English public school since it had become too difficult for me to lip-read in French. Because of this, I was exempted from all French classes throughout my school years. Being deaf changed the course of my life, but in ways, even though it may have its disadvantages sometimes, I realize it also has its advantages. I also feel it has made me a better person, because I feel that it´s made me more open minded, and patient, and understanding. I´m also grateful because there are people out there who contract this virus, and they aren´t always as lucky as I was. Meningitis can rob you of your eyesight, it can cause you to lose your hearing, or even paralyze.
One of the biggest impacts this disease has had on my life was not only my own personal experience, but of another student I attended high school with. My older sister knew him since they were in class together. I was 16 years old when Michael Longo died, and when I heard of his passing from the same disease I myself contracted 10 years earlier, it hit me hard. I´m extremely grateful that, despite her tragic loss, Mike´s mother founded the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada so we can all learn more about this disease and learn how to stop it completely from devastating anyone else.
" Love deeply and passionately, it´s the only way to live life completely."
Sonia Lemieux, Ottawa, ON, Age 24