When Exeter’s David Thomas rushed his young son to hospital with suspected meningitis, he was experiencing every parent’s nightmare.
But the worst was yet to come.
Doctors asked him to hold five-year-old Christopher in the foetal position so they could perform a vital lumber puncture.
David said: “His screams were so terrible the awful memory has never left me."
“I felt so helpless, having to hold Chris firmly while they did what they had to do and inflict such pain on him. The doctors said it would be less painful if a family member held him for the puncture. It was necessary, of course, but it was my bleakest moment.”
Fortunately, Christopher didn’t have meningitis and made a full recovery.
But Exeter businessman David and his wife Hilary were to endure the same ordeal all over again when their elder son Andrew was also rushed into the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital with suspected meningitis. He too was given the all clear.
Chris, now 21, and his brother Andrew, 24, have little or no recall of their ordeals. They and their sister Laura, 16, have all grown into healthy young adults.
Now, their ever-grateful parents have been inspired by Sparks, a leading children’s medical research charity, to take part in a sponsored climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania next month. It’s their way of helping to save children in the future who contract the often fatal disease and lets them express their gratitude that their sons were spared.
Sparks funds research into cures and treatments for illnesses affecting babies, children and pregnant mothers. Meningitis is very much on their list, along with cerebral palsy.
The talk over the couple’s breakfast table these days is all about preparing for the challenge that will involve huge physical and mental fitness, as well as raising their £7,500 target.
As you’d expect from the man who runs Bluegrass Computer Services, David, 51, has built a website – www.davidthomas.uk.com – about their challenge. There will be regular updates on training, kit testing and fundraising as the months go by. The couple will also be providing live updates on the website and by satellite phone to the media during the climb.
David and Hilary, Bluegrass’s financial director, have already received £2,500 business sponsorship from Taurus Clearer Communication, Rokk Media and other local businesses.
The couple will be part of a group of eight, mostly from the Exeter business community, making the trip. The ascent takes around four days and although it’s described as trekkable, climbers have to endure extremes of temperature as well as shortness of breath, as they acclimatise to the altitude and lower oxygen levels. The final stage will begin at midnight on day four, so the team can enjoy the sunrise from the 19,340 feet summit. Coming down is much quicker. The descent takes about a day and a half.
It’s a first time visit to Africa for David and Hilary, but they know that this is definitely not going to be a holiday. Although around 30,000 people per year climb the mountain, deaths from heart attacks and altitude sickness are not uncommon.
David said, “We know we have to be really fit. We’re both keen on walking anyway, but the specialist training starts now.”
In fact, the training could be continuing for some years to come. Once they’ve conquered Kilimanjaro, there’s more Team Thomas talk of climbing the highest trekkable peaks in all the continents.
The group they are climbing with includes Nicole Rolfe, south west fund raiser for Sparks, Jennifer Riach, from Meca Services, and Sarah Knight, from Sarah West Recruitment.
Ages range from 27 to 54 and they've been rigorously training at weekends, including on Snowdon in Wales and experiencing sleep deprivation in readiness for the trip.