A target of €3,300 has been set to raise money for Meningitis Research Foundation
A student from Athlone Institute of Technology will climb Mount Everest this summer to raise money for the Meningitis Research Foundation, an international charity dedicated to eradicating meningitis and septicaemia globally. Jessica O’Brien, a final year accounting student from Arklow, Co. Wicklow, made the decision after her aunt was diagnosed with septicaemia, also known as blood poisoning, six months ago. If left untreated, the unpredictable bloodstream infection can develop into sepsis, leading to tissue damage, organ failure and even death.
Jessica’s aunt is one of almost 15,000 people who contract the devastating illness each year in Ireland. In 2016, sepsis claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, making it more pernicious than lung or breast cancer or even a heart attack. Despite this, awareness remains low, particularly amongst young people aged 25 and under. Awareness of meningitis, an illness that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is also low with one in five 16-25-year-olds not realising the illness can cause death.
“Growing up, myself and my friends thought meningitis was something that only babies got, but it’s not, it also affects young people,” Jessica said. “College students are actually in the second highest risk category.” On average, there are between 150 to 200 cases of bacterial meningitis annually, with one in every 10 proving fatal. A third of survivors also face devasting side effects, including brain injury, limb loss, sight and speech problems.
For Jessica, climbing Mount Everest - a gruelling endeavour in its own right - is an opportunity to support a charity dedicated to helping families cope following a septicaemia or meningitis diagnosis. “The Meningitis Research Foundation is fighting on behalf of families like mine to eliminate these life-threatening illnesses, offering support and information to improve outcomes for patients and their families,” she said. “This is my opportunity to give back and help people, like my aunt, who aren’t in a position to help themselves.”
According to the 22-year-old, a greater awareness of these illnesses is needed to reduce the number of associated deaths in Ireland. “Delayed recognition of symptoms is a massive problem and can have devasting consequences. People need to be symptom aware as many of the people that get sick don’t make it and the ones that do often don’t get to live a normal life after,” she said. Commonly reported symptoms of septicaemia poisoning include feeling feverish and exhibiting flu-like symptoms with the appearance of pale or mottled skin, while meningitis can present with vomiting, headaches, an aversion to bright lights and chills. The two illnesses – septicaemia and meningitis - often go hand in hand.
Ahead of her journey, which, on its longest day, will see her walk 23 kilometres, Jessica will undergo stamina and endurance training, including specialised altitude training to prepare her for Everest’s high altitude and inclement conditions. “I’ve been advised that the more I train, the easier it will be, so I’m planning on being as fit as possible before I make the trek. The stairs machine in the gym is going to be my new best friend,” she quipped. “That and the bike.” Jessica also intends to scale Carrantuohill, Ireland’s highest mountain, in advance of her departure for Nepal to get her muscles ready and to help prevent injury when undertaking “the real challenge” in August.
Her journey is expected to take 11 days - seven days up and four days back down. “It will take longer to get up because I’ll need acclimatisation days. If I head up there too quickly, climbing too high without adjusting, I could get altitude mountain sickness,” she explained. “Climbing Mount Everest will probably be one of the most singularly challenging experiences of my life, but I expect it will also be one of the most rewarding. Being able to say that I have climbed the highest mountain in the world and to have done some good in the process, that will be my reward.”
To achieve her goal, Jessica needs to raise €3,300 by June. “People can donate in a wide range of ways. I set up an Everyday Hero account which is directly linked to the Meningitis Research Foundation. I also have sponsor cards, where anybody that wants to can donate in cash. Everything gets lodged into my Everyday Hero account which again goes straight to the Meningitis Research Foundation.”
Jessica will also be bag packing in Athlone over the next couple of weeks and is hoping to organise a coffee morning and a quiz night to help her reach her goal. “All donations are welcome,” she said. “Nothing is too big or too small.”
The accounting student will be accompanied on the trip by one other AIT student, Ryan Duarte, and six GMIT students, with whom they are fundraising, beginning their adventure on August 20th at Dublin Airport.
Athlone Institute of Technology is a modern and dynamic HEI distinguished by outstanding learner experience, international focus and applied research and innovation. Awarded Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year 2018, AIT is currently ranked 8th nationally of all HEIs in the league table comprising of Irish Universities and IoT’s. Athlone Institute of Technology boasts a wide array of courses in the Faculties of Engineering and Informatics, Business and Hospitality, and Science and Health. For the full list of courses on offer at Athlone Institute of Technology click here.