A SCOTS couple whose eight-year-old daughter died of meningitis are urging other parents to trust "mother's intuition" if they are worried about their child's health.
Jim and Jocelyn Hillhouse lost their youngest child Jocelyne after she woke up in November 1993 with what appeared to be a serious cold.
The disease developed so rapidly that by late morning, she had lost consciousness and never woke again.
The couple, who have two other children, are joining an awareness drive in their home town this week, urging other parents to act quickly if they fear something could be seriously wrong with their child.
They are also calling for a recently licensed vaccine against meningitis B to be speedily approved for NHS use.
Jocelyne Hillhouse did not have any classic meningitis symptoms, such as a stiff neck or dislike of bright light, but her mother was "instinctively" worried. Mrs Hillhouse, of Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, called a doctor, who examined the child and assured her it was not meningitis.
After he had left, the couple tried to make their daughter comfortable. Mr Hillhouse, 58, a retired Post Office engineer, said: "She was lying on the couch and I said, 'I'll get you a video.' I went to the video shop and got her Mary Poppins but when I came back, she looked as if she had gone into a sleep. We tried to wake her but couldn't.
"She never woke up."
The couple called the GP who returned straight away. Jocelyne was rushed to Monklands Hospitalin Airdrie and immediately given a heavy dose of penicillin, but it was too late to save her. After two days, on St Andrew's Day, her parents had to make the harrowing decision to switch off her life support machine.
Mr Hillhouse, 58, said: "You're numb. You look back and you think, 'Did we do the right thing?' but there was nothing we could have done.
"We don't blame the doctor. There were absolutely no signs – spots, dizziness, sensitivity to bright lights, stiff neck – none of that. She was walking about fine; we just thought she was tired and wanted a wee sleep."
However, he said that while it was too late for his family, he wanted to prevent the tragedy happening to others and urged parents to trust their intuition. He said: "Act on your instincts –- that is the big message. I think mother's intuition can beat any doctor's diagnosis, I'm a strong believer in that. A mother knows her children. If you have any doubts at all, don't hesitate, go to the hospital, go to the doctor.
"Meningitis is just so quick and I think parents just don't realise it can be so fast."
Steve Dayman, Meningitis UK founder who is joining the Hillhouses at the week-long roadshow at Asda, Cumbernauld, said: "Parents know their children better than anyone. Health professionals should treat that like a sixth sense.
"It's very difficult to make a diagnosis in the early stages, but most GPs know their patients and mothers who don't come into the surgery unless they are really concerned."
Cases of meningitis peak in February. As well as the classic signs, bacterial meningitis symptoms include difficulty supporting one's weight, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, confusion and drowsiness, while signs of meningococcal septicaemia include aching limbs, cold hands and feet and a rash. The patient's condition usually deteriorates rapidly.
In some cases, even prompt treatment is not enough to save lives, making effective vaccines crucially important.
Last month a vaccine against 73% of group B meningococcal strains was approved for use by the European Commission but must still go before the UK's Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation. Mr Dayman said it was vital the committee met quickly and recommended the vaccine be incorporated into the childhood immunisation programme. There are 150 deaths from meningitis B in the UK each year.
He said: "It will be the biggest breakthrough in public health since the polio vaccine. If there is any delay, then Meningitis UK and families like the Hillhouses will be asking why."