She had all the symptoms of a seasonal flu: fever, lethargy and a headache. By the time her parents realized she had contracted meningitis, it was too late for seven-year-old Trinity Hum.
Her health declined incredibly fast: within 36 hours, the Grade 2 girl was rushed by ambulance to the Hospital for Sick Children. She didn’t regain consciousness and she passed away on Feb. 10, 2012, just four days after she felt the first symptoms.
Her parents, Stephanie and Greg Hum, are sharing their tragic story in hopes that other families will gain awareness of the symptoms of meningitis and the importance of vaccination.
“If we could help another family, spare them from going through what we did, then that’s what we would like to achieve,” Stephanie Hum told Global News.
What parents need to know about meningitis
A fever, stiff neck, and lingering headache. Those are the hallmark signs of meningitis, along with nausea, confusion and drowsiness.
The trouble is, the symptoms are nearly identical to the flu and meningitis outbreaks typically peak during February and March, which is also when the seasonal flu is making its rounds.
This week marks National Immunization Awareness Week.
Most Canadian children are vaccinated against meningitis as infants up to about 18 months of age. There are a handful of strains of meningitis, but not all strains are covered by vaccines, Gold warned.
About 90 per cent of those who contact meningitis survive – 10 per cent result in death. But keep in mind, some survivors end up with long-term health complications, such as brain damage, hearing and sight loss, loss of limbs or severe scarring.
Gold’s concern is that Canadian parents may not know much about meningitis and its quick progression.
“The disease over the past 20 years, because of the success of vaccines, has become much less common, so young parents today may not know much about it, just like they don’t know about measles or mumps because they’ve almost disappeared,” he said.
“Parents have to know this is a very severe disease and it has to be identified and treated as soon as possible,” he warned.
A new Ipsos and GSK survey suggests that 37 per cent of parents list meningitis as one of the greatest risks to their child out of 14 vaccine-preventable diseases. But 27 per cent say they don’t know or are unsure of the symptoms of the disease.
Seventy-two per cent of Canadian parents feel they don’t know enough about the different strains of meningitis and the damage it can cause to a child.
All about Trinity Hum
Trinity had dark brown hair, big dark brown eyes and an athletic build. She had a creative mind, her mom, Stephanie, recalled. Trinity was always drawing and painting in the classroom, taking piano lessons and her favourite animal was the penguin. She even created her own language.
She looked up to her big sister, Saskia, now 14.
“She loved to read. She was in a competition with her older sister so she’d memorize entire books before she could read,” Stephanie said.
READ MORE: 6 vaccination myths debunked
Trinity was vaccinated according to the Ontario immunization schedule. In December 2011, six weeks before her death, she faced a severe brain injury when she was hit with a piece of mechanical equipment while on vacation with her family.
She needed brain surgery because her skull had pierced into the membrane.
Gold didn’t treat Trinity, but he says that while kids can be vaccinated against meningitis, bacteria can seep into the tear in the membrane in severe head injuries.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated or not,” he said.
Trinity was on the mend from her surgery, though. She was back in school, playing with her stuffed animals and socializing with her family and friends.
Her recovery was fine until she woke up in the middle of the night with a severe headache and pain. Her parents gave her Tylenol and kept her on bed rest, until she started vomiting and flu-like symptoms kicked in.
Hours later, they rushed her to hospital and she went from urgent care to being rushed to SickKids. By then she was already unresponsive.
Meningitis didn’t cross the Hums’ minds.
“It was abstract to me because I knew she had a vaccine for meningitis. I didn’t make a connection,” Stephanie said.
The family celebrates Trinity’s birthday each year at her grave.
“We go to the cemetery, get balloons and write our messages on them and release them and watch them track up towards her,” Stephanie explained.
Trinity’s father is now the chairman of the Meningitis Research Foundation in memory of his daughter while the family takes part in annual EdgeWalk events at the CN Tower to raise awareness about the disease.
“We miss her. It goes in waves and there are certain triggers that make us extremely sad and we have to lean on each other,” Stephanie said.
“We really hope we can prevent this from happening to any other families,” she said.