Eighteen-year-old suddenly stricken with meningitis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – It all began with a headache two weeks ago. Eighteen-year-old Brittany Vicknair was home for the weekend from Southeastern Louisiana University, where she is a freshman, and was at a friend’s house when the headache began.

She called her parents, George and Rachel Vicknair, to ask them to wait up for her. They were concerned with the urgency in her voice, so they were waiting in the yard when her car pulled up.

After they all went into the house, Brittany’s parents gave her thera-flu, tylenol and motrin. “We thought she was coming down with the flu,” said Rachel.

By morning, the headache was still there, and Brittany was not able to lift her head. She also experienced pain in her neck.

Her concerned parents rushed her to River Parishes Hospital. On the way there, they noticed a rash beginning on her foot. “My foot was beginning to hurt,” said Brittany.

Once in the emergency room, she was evaluated and immediately put on antibiotics. She was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit.

“The doctor told us that they were going to do blood work, a CAT scan and a spinal tap,” said Rachel.

The blood work came back OK, according to Brittany’s dad. “And the CAT scan showed no brain damage,” he added.

But the spinal tap showed that Brittany had bacterial meningitis.

“I had heard of this,” said Brittany. “But I didn’t know exactly what it was and what it could do.”

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Antibiotics can help in the treatment plan. In some cases, amputation of certain parts of the body is necessary if the bacteria count is too high in those areas.

The Vicknairs don’t know how Brittany acquired her illness. But they now know the symptoms, and are urging other parents to be aware, and also teach their children what to look for.

Typical symptoms of meningitis are headache, neck stiffness and flu-like characteristics, such as nausea and vomiting. They can develop over several hours or may take one or two days.

“I want to stress how important it is that everyone know what to do if they see these symptoms,” said George Vicknair. Acting fast and getting to the hospital right away is the first step, he said. “River Parishes Hospital saved my daughter,” he added.

Brittany entered River weeks ago, and stayed for one week.

She was stabilized there, and George and Rachel had some decisions to make on where to go from there.

They remembered a woman acquaintance from Lutcher who had also faced meningitis, and decided to ask her about her specialists.

That woman, Patti Amato, gave them the names of her doctors, who currently practice at Baton Rouge General Hospital.

The Vicknairs were concerned about Brittany’s right foot, due to the fact that there was a problem with circulation at the onset of the illness.

“We came here (Baton Rouge General) mainly because we were worried about the foot,” said George. “We wanted to get the best advice from the specialists.”

Brittany has been at this hospital for one week, and has had to continue her daily dialysis.

The original reason for the dialysis machine was to route out the bacteria, which it has done. The continuation of the treatment now is to keep fluids circulating correctly, according to Brittany’s dad.

Another daily task Brittany faces each day is having to have blood work done.

This monitors what is happening with her food, her dad added.

When interviewed on Monday, Brittany was in good spirits and is grateful for the caring she has seen from her family, friends, and the community.

“I am blown away by everyone’s support,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

The teen still has a battle in front of her.

She faces possible surgery on Tuesday to amputate her right foot if the bacteria count is too high.

There is also the possibility that she will not have to have the surgery. Those ongoing blood tests will determine which way it will go.

Brittany has prepared herself for whatever happens with her illness. She will go on, and looks forward to her future as a college student.

“I’m ready,” she said of her possible surgery. “I just want to have it all behind me.”

Her parents are very thankful for the outpouring of love and prayers they have received for their daughter. Hundreds of people, groups and organizations have Brittany in their prayers, and will keep her there, according to correspondence received by the Vicknairs.

And the cards, flowers and gifts continue to come. “Our house looks like a florist shop,” Rachel said with a laugh.

George Vicknair feels the ongoing well-wishers are close to his family’s heart, and there may not be an avenue big enough to show their appreciation.

“It I were to throw a thank-you party, I would have to rent the Superdome,” he said. “Even then, it wouldn’t be big enough for everyone.”