Published: 06:00, 12 June 2019
| Updated: 06:09, 12 June 2019
When mum Sarah Hayward went home feeling unwell after a night out with friends she assumed somebody had spiked her drink.
But the following day she was in intensive care fighting for her life after being struck down with meningitis.
At the age of 49, Sarah had no idea that adults could contract the deadly disease assuming it was only babies and teenagers who were vulnerable.
She had to have both legs amputated below her knee, but after a long fight and counselling, she has overcome the life-changing trauma emotionally.
She is now promoting a campaign headed by the charity Meningitis Now, entitled Adults Get it Too, to raise awareness.
Sarah has returned to her job as an administrator at Medway Maritime Hospital, has moved into a bungalow in Wigmore and drives a specially-adapted car.
A survey commissioned by the charity found 95% of adults over 55 considered they were not at risk of meningitis despite the risk rising as people age.
Her harrowing ordeal started in November 2017, when she was socialising with friends in Rochester, but went home early after feeling "strange".
She said: “At first I thought my drink had been spiked. I felt cold, but then it was winter and, beforehand, I had been outside watching fireworks.
“I have no memory of what happened next but my daughter, who was only 16 and out for the day, started to get concerned that she couldn’t get in touch with me.
“We are very close and she knew something was wrong so she got her course tutor to drive her home.”
Sarah was found semi-conscious hanging out of bed at their house in Regent Road, Gillingham.
She was taken to hospital where she had a cardiac arrest.
Her daughter, Ciara, now 18, was told she wasn’t expected to survive the night.
“I was placed in an induced coma, was ventilated and my organs one by one began to fail,” Sarah added.
“My legs, hands and nose started to turn black.”
When she woke up, medics discovered that her kidneys were failing and she was told that she would have to have both legs amputated below the knee.
She said: “Over six weeks I got stronger but was devastated when they told me the damage to my feet and legs was irreversible.
“I just remembered crying constantly. After 10 weeks I was allowed home and started rehab.
"In my darkest moments I have to admit I sometimes wished I hadn't survived... but after counselling and time to heal, things started to get better" - Sarah Hayward
“The emotional effects in a way far outweighed the physical limitations to start with.
“In my darkest moments I have to admit I sometimes wished I hadn’t survived.
“But after counselling and time to heal, things started to get better.
“My walking has improved, I can walk unaided in doors and use crutches when out.
“I am back to work and can honestly say am getting used to my new normal and loving life.”
Sarah now lives in Tanglewood Close, near her parents Gwyneth and Godfrey Hayward, and has support from her estranged husband Martin Bird.
Ciara, a former pupil at Chatham Girls' Grammar, is studying her A-levels at home and is her carer.
She said: “My one piece of advice to anyone in the same situation would be to seek counselling.
“I had no signs or symptoms that I was ill and have always been fit and healthy.
“It came on so suddenly and so aggressively. Now whenever I get the chance I try and promote knowledge of meningitis.
“I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone.
“My daughter saved my life. We have always had a close bond between us, but now that bond is even stronger."