They say it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all. The day Aoibhe Carroll was born and placed in her parents' arms, they felt a love like they never knew existed. They had four wonderful years of love, hugs, happiness, and cherished memories before she was cruelly taken from them in April 2008. Now, 10 years on in a decade in which her parents established the ACT for Meningitis charity, we hear how losing her daughter has impacted on her mother's life, how she has gained the strength to live with this loss and how, in the face of such tragedy, she has built a legacy that is not only saving lives but is rebuilding the futures of others on that same horrific journey.
That day, April 2 2008, saw the lives of Siobhan and Noel Carroll turned completely upside down, when the ultimate horror visited them, the death of their eldest child Aoibhe, who had turned four in January. Aoibhe woke up in the middle of the night of April 1, with vomiting and diarrhoea. Her dad Noel was at home alone with Aoibhe and her brother Eimhin, who was two years old.
Siobhán, who was pregnant with their third child, was experiencing some difficulties related to her pregnancy and so was in hospital for overnight observation. Noel comforted Aoibhe, changed her and when she fell asleep again, tucked her back into bed and rang Siobhán in the hospital to let her know Aoibhe had been sick. Siobhan was worried that one of the kids was sick, but kids get sick all the time. She had spoken to her on the phone earlier in the evening before she went to bed and she was in great form, telling her she loved her and she would see her in the morning, so she wasn't that worried. However Aoibhe got sick again later in the night, setting off alarm bells with Noel and he called the doctor, who told him it sounded like Aoibhe had a vomiting bug.
As her condition deteriorated during the night, he rang the doctor a couple of times and followed the advice given. At this stage Noel was sitting on the couch in the sitting room of their house in Oranmore in the early hours of the morning, cradling Aoibhe in his arms.
They were watching cartoons around 5:00am, when Aoibhe’s eyes closed and Noel thought she was drifting off to sleep, but then he noticed her lips had started to turn blue. He immediately rang an ambulance and phoned Siobhán to tell her Aoibhe was not well and there was an ambulance coming out. Siobhan was obviously very worried then and spoke to Noel when the ambulance arrived, and he told her that they were working on Aoibhe. Siobhan didn’t know what he meant by working on her, as she assumed she only had a vomiting bug.
What Siobhán didn’t know was by the time the ambulance had arrived to the house, Aoibhe had stopped breathing. The ambulance crew continued to treat the little girl and she was rushed into hospital. As Siobhan was being kept in for the night for observation, when Noel told her that Aoibhe was on the way in to the hospital in an ambulance, she made her way over to Accident and Emergency to wait for them.
Siobhan still remembers standing outside in the dark. It was the middle of the night, so it was very quiet and off in the distance she could hear a siren and remembers saying to herself "God it sounds as if someone is very sick, God love them " without realising it was the ambulance rushing Aoibhe into hospital. The ambulance pulled up, the doors opened and someone just ran out straight past her into accident and emergency, followed by the ambulance crew and Noel with Aoibhe.
But it was too late, Aoibhe was gone, an aggressive strain of meningitis taking her life. Life as they knew it changed that day. Four weeks after Aoibhe died, Siobhán gave birth to their son Noah and their youngest child Sophie was born in December 2009, but the journey to where they are now ten years later has been one of pain with coping with this loss and of hope, and with creating Aoibhe’s legacy, ACT for Meningitis.
Creating a legacy
Shortly after losing Aoibhe, Siobhan met a woman who had sadly lost two children and in desperation Siobhan asked her the question; “how do you survive after the loss of your precious child?” The woman's advice was to keep as busy as she could for as long as she could, because it wasn't in the next few weeks or even in the next few months ahead that the reality of losing Aoibhe would hit home, but it would be one or two years down the line that the full impact of Aoibhe's death would finally hit her and at that stage in her life she would be strong enough to cope with it.
How right she was. Siobhan still believe this woman’s words got her through her darkest hours and kept her going and they are still friends to this day. The hardest part was now trying to live every day without Aoibhe. Recognising and experiencing the lack of support for those affected by meningitis and the massive need for awareness, in July 2011 Siobhan and Noel started the charity ACT for Meningitis (ACT standing for the Aoibhe Carroll Trust ) and each day at ACT, brought something new to their lives.
From meeting the amazing people whose lives have been affected by meningitis, listening to their stories and offering them support, to travelling the length and breadth of Ireland providing awareness talks, training and distributing awareness materials, the most rewarding things they found about ACT was to see the difference a simple phone call or a home visit can make to someone, to be inspired by the people who use their services and to know that they can help to rebuild their lives.
Siobhan realised that in an organization like ACT, you are constantly challenged to have your voice and cause heard, but lives have been saved through the charity's awareness campaigns and nobody is alone in Ireland now if they have been affected by Meningitis as ACT is there to give them the support they need for as long as they need it.
How life can change in a heartbeat
Siobhan knows how short life can be and how in a heartbeat it can change. Someone once told her that the death of a child could either become the book of your life or a chapter in your book. Siobhan decided that Aoibhe would not be forgotten and her proud legacy would live on.
This week marks Aoibhe's tenth anniversary and she is still missed every single day But a tragedy became a legacy in the hope that even just one parent could be spared from the pain of losing a child. The gifts of support and kindness of so many people Siobhan and Noel have met along the way is what gave their lives a purpose again, but their biggest gift was being Aoibhe's parents and even death can never take that away.
On this Sunday April 8, ACT for Meningitis will mark Aoibhe’s 10th Anniversary by hosting a family sporting event in her favourite park, Renville Park in Oranmore.
The event “Remembering Aoibhe Renville Challenge” is now in its fourth year and includes a fully time chipped 5k Walk/Run at 11am, a 3k/16k/3k Duathlon Race at 3pm and this year, as it is her 10th anniversary to include more children, a 2.5k fully time chipped Junior Race has been added, where all the participants will receive a finishers medal.
For further information or registration visit www.iregister,ie/rarc or call Dawn at 091 380058. Thanks to their kind sponsors, DFS & Co Accountants & Supermacs, every cent of registration to any of these events will go directly to the charity ACT for Meningitis so they can continue to do this essential work in Aoibhe’s memory.
Get along, run or walk, but give and see for yourselves the impact that Act for Meningitis has on so many families.
Aoibhe will never be forgotten by the people of Galway, never.