15 Aug Life is bigger than a brain injury | Kathryn & Holly Geddes
Holly Geddes was only eight weeks old when struck down with meningitis. Meningitis, inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, effects people differently. In some cases, it causes damage to the brain that impacts cognition and behaviour. During her bout of meningitis Holly experienced temperatures of up to 43’C, which led to seizures.
Holly was severely impacted by her bout of meningitis, which has impacted her whole life. Now 25, Holly doesn’t know any different, as it happened when she was so young.
“It’s not always easy,” Holly’s mother Kathryn says.
“We got to the stage where we were starting school and we just assumed she’d go to the mainstream school, but did some tests and realised it was never going to be an option, so she went to the Hampden Specialist School. First the primary campus, then the secondary campus. The school is a credit and we’re lucky to have it in the area.”
Now, Holly goes to the day centre at Cooinda in Terang. “It has been a bit of an adjustment, she loved school. Holly attends Cooinda three days a week, and has a carer on her weekdays at home.
Kathryn who is employed at TDHS, as the Hotel Services Supervisor, is thankful for her supportive workplace. A supportive working arrangement allows her the flexibility to care for Holly at home when carers are unavailable or Holly is sick.
“Holly was born healthy, and she was about a week off having her first immunisations when she got a bad cold, so couldn’t have those done. Then she progressively got sicker.
“Holly was sensitive to the light, and you couldn’t touch her. Our GP Dr Neil Jackson sent us through to Warrnambool where they did a lumbar puncture and diagnosed the meningitis,” Kathryn said.
“It was pretty hard. You bring home this healthy bub and then, even though it was only eight weeks, you still go through a mourning process with that.
“Holly was in hospital for about two weeks. The first couple of nights they weren’t sure she’d make it, but she did. They said she would probably be deaf, so they had to do tests before she came home. But her hearing was fine. It affected all the muscles in her throat so she couldn’t eat properly for a long time.
Holly has hemiplegia (paralysis of the muscles) on her left hand side, a shunt due to the hydrocephalus (build-up of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain), epilepsy, and delayed development.
Holly started walking when she was around 5-6. Kathryn says that it was hard carrying her around. “They did surgery on her leg to straighten it so she could walk, and she pretty much started walking straight away after that. It was amazing, we were so happy.”
Holly’s speech was delayed to the point where they didn’t think she would ever speak. “They started sign language and I think she decided it was too boring and too hard, so she literally started talking in full sentences,” Kathryn said.
“All through it she has kept a very naughty sense of humour. She’s always been a happy little thing.
There has been lots of operations, visits to the Royal Children’s Hospital, then to St Vincent’s when Holly turned 18. She has had surgery on her arm to untwist it, but still can’t use it. Holly still suffers from epileptic seizures, leaving her quite exhausted.
In addition to day activities at Cooinda, Holly enjoys watching movies and playing games on her Playstation 4. Holly says her favourite shop is EB Games where she can buy more games like Spongebob Squarepants and Lego. Holly also loves visiting with family, including her nieces. Each fortnight Holly has been going out for tea with friends. “I like swimming,” says Holly who enjoys the warm water pool in Cobden.
“The future is always something you think of in situations like this,” Kathryn says.
“That’s our next hurdle to cross. She will be at home with us as long as she can be.
“I am lucky in the fact that I have a lot of family support. We have had a lot of family support from both mine and Wayne’s parents,” Kathryn said.
Holly started going into respite care at Cooinda one weekend a month a couple of years ago. Prior to that Kathryn and Wayne took care of her entirely at home.
The pandemic was a challenging time for the family. “COVID was horrid, Holly had about 12 months where she couldn’t go to Cooinda,” Kathryn said. As an essential worker Kathryn was able to continue working and access a carer for Holly, but not being able to go anywhere or do anything was hard for Holly.
Holly accesses support via the NDIS which takes care of travel costs, day program and respite care.
Kathryn’s advice to others is to take help when it’s offered. “A lot of people make the mistake of not getting help. People need to access what’s out there,” Kathryn said.