It has been five years since Temi Braithwaite, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Adesoye Braithwaite died of meningitis on December 11, 2014, while in studying as an undergraduate in Swansea, the United Kingdom. When the bereavement happened unrealistic shock, confusion and disbelieve clothed the family. In the intervening five years, the family has undergone internal healing and now determined to make good come out of the terrible experience of losing their teenage daughter. And have decided to carry out a sort of ‘evangelism’ on meningitis in the country, by teaching families on the great need to vaccinate adolescents against meningitis as most people do not realize the danger in not vaccinating young adults against the deadly disease. In this interview, Ajoke Braithwaite, mother of late Temi, talks about Boot Out Menigitis For Good (#BoOMAGOOD), a foundation established in honour of Temi, to spread awareness about adult meningitis and the need to vaccinate children, especially young adults.
What fond memories do you have of your late daughter Temi who died in 2014 through meningitis?
Temi as a daughter had a different relationship with us as her parents. She was a little mummy. She knew and did everything I wanted as her mother. She was a child that never wanted me to be upset or get to the house to discover it had not been cleaned. She was a child that wanted to excel in everything she did. The reason she did not go out on that unfortunate day was because she wanted to submit an assignment, which all put together would lead to a first class. God ordered everything about Temi already. If one could be described as a child that was too good, I would say Temi did not get into quarrels, rather she would sit at a corner to sulk when she offended. When her grandfather visited London before her death, the memory of her he had was standing on a bench to wash plates because I made her and the siblings do chores. When we were preparing for school then, she would bathe herself and her younger ones, got them dressed up while I prepared their breakfast and we would leave for school. She was such an organizer, she did navigation whenever we were travelling domestically, and she was very beyond her age.
How did you receive the news of her death?
My second daughter and I were at home in London when the news was broken to us. It was quite a rude shock. A police officer knocked on our door about 7:00pm and told us the sad news of Temi passing. I called my husband immediately because he was in Nigeria, he could not hear me well, but all what I tried to pass to him was that Temi was dead…Temi was dead. My husband didn’t know what to do; he put his phone down because it was quite an unrealistic shock.
Was there any premonition before her death?
A week before she passed away, she called me to complain that she had flu-like symptoms. She also told me that she fell down while going to the kitchen and injured her waist. So, she was rushed to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) and was treated. We talked about it and we didn’t think anything was wrong. By Tuesday, I was in England and saw my son, after which I started calling her on the phone, but she could not pick. All through Wednesday, I called and was saying in my mind, ‘If I catch this girl, I will so beat her’. That was not the first time you would call and she would not pick. At such times, she would say, ‘Mummy, I am sorry, I was in the library.’ But then, I actually got a text message from her flat-mate who asked me to call her, saying it was about Temi. I ignored it because I felt maybe as students they had gone out and something like that until the police came. Because I was once a social worker, that line of work taught me to recognize danger when you see it. “When you see male and female police officers appear in your home, it signifies problem. So as soon as I saw them, I automatically knew that something was wrong. When they came in, they asked whether I have a daughter called Temi? I said yes. They gave me my son’s date of birth, and I said my son was okay because I saw him few days earlier. They went back and reappeared with the right date of birth for Temi. I asked what happened, and they told me that Temi passed away. It was the least news I expected. I said, ‘okay, let us go and see her,’ meanwhile she was four hours away in Swansea. I kept repeating that I wanted to go and see her and they said that she had been moved to the morgue. In the midst of that confusion, my husband called and requested I should wait for him to come into London. I told him that he should instead wait for me in Nigeria, and that he should not worry. My daughter and I managed the situation throughout the night and my husband came in the next day.
How did you feel that day?
People had started coming to the house both in Nigeria and in London. My husband was on a flight the next morning and I was waiting for him to come because I could not do anything. His journey became so long, and also became the longest journey I knew in life. I wanted to go and see her but my husband would say, wait. Time stood still and by the time he finally arrived, we travelled to Swansea the next morning to see and identify her, which was the hardest thing for us to do. We saw her looking beautiful as if she was just sleeping. Her younger sister refused to see her but eventually did after getting to know that seeing her would be part of her healing process. It was through autopsy report that we knew she died from meningitis.
In the light of what happened, what lessons would say you have been learnt and how can such occurrence be prevented?
Meningitis kills within 48 hours. As the autopsy revealed the cause of her death, well as a human being, it was just not easy to absorb the shock of losing a 19-year-old daughter. We have reflected on it and felt that maybe it could also be a calling from God because He works in different ways. We therefore decided that something should come from her death. We chose to work on the issue of meningitis in Nigeria, especially in the North, where it is prevalent, and considering the number of deaths that emanate from that part of the country. It might be baffling to know that even the most educated people do not know much about meningitis. It is important to know that not all fevers are malaria. Now, we took it upon ourselves to create awareness on the prevention of meningitis, to teach people about who is most at risk and identifying them. We also try to create awareness on the vaccination, how and when to be given to the patient. People are more susceptible to the infant age vaccination which happens at 0-10 or 11years which is compulsory, but the second part which is that end of secondary school to university, 16-24 years most people do not pay attention to that stage of a child’s life. When taken at that appropriate age, the vaccination wears off at the age of 24. It is important for parents to know that the second part of the vaccination is compulsory especially for those travelling to study abroad. Meningitis could also be described as ‘lovers’ disease’ because everybody is a career. We were not opportune to witness Temi’s final end but of the short notice it happened, that is how meningitis kills. We again are trying to get vaccine through UNICEF and our future focus is to give it to people who cannot afford it. We target the IDP camps. Again, we want people who can get one and donate another to someone who cannot afford one. We are willing to work with government to achieve all these as victims of meningitis.
So how do you plan to achieve this?
As I noted earlier, Temi died on December 11, 2014. This is the fifth year of her death. We have established a foundation, Boot Out Meningitis For Good (#BoOMAGOOD), in her honour. We plan to hold a family memorial, during which talks would be given on meningitis. There would also be a walk with young adults. The framework is geared towards development
What advice would you give to parents and their young adults who need the vaccination more?
If the autopsy had not been done, probably, we would not have known what went wrong. Most importantly, I would advise parents to always teach young adults to have a body system where someone will have access and check on them.