A first-year university student who went to bed with a ‘hangover’ and never woke up died after contracting a rare form of meningitis.
Alisha Bartolini was just 18 and in the first term of her marketing degree at Liverpool Hope University when she started getting flu-like symptoms.
The teenager, who was described as ‘a thoughtful and beautiful young lady’, thought she might have picked up ‘Freshers’ flu’ and went back to bed after a Halloween night out with her friends.
However, Alisha never woke up, dying on November 1, 2014 and her devastated mother Michaela is now desperately campaigning to make sure more young people get vaccinated against the infection.
Alisha Bartolini was just 18 and in her first term of university when she went to asleep and never woke up, dying of a rare form of meningitis
Alisha, who was a ‘mother hen’ that looked out for her friends, had moved to Liverpool from Wigan and was excited to start her degree in the city.
Michaela said: ‘It was flu-like symptoms – like Freshers’ flu from being away from home and the late nights and not eating properly.
‘It’s very much fluey type symptoms. She got up feeling unwell one morning and she put it down to being hungover from being out at a Halloween party the night before.
‘She got up, had a shower and went back to bed.
‘She had a headache and was vomiting and everything – she was quite feverish. That’s just what you put it down to.
‘Her friends didn’t think anything from it other than her being rough from the night before or coming down with something. It wasn’t in the back of their minds because you associate meningitis with babies and toddlers.’
Michaela, who said she would do ‘anything’ to hear Alisha’s laugh again, is backing a campaign to raise meningitis vaccination rates in the Liverpool area after figures showed the region has one of the lowest uptake rates in the country.
She said that while one of Alisha’s friends from home received a letter inviting her for a vaccination, Alisha did not receive such information and wasn’t aware of the threat.
Alisha thought she might have picked up ‘Freshers’ flu’ and went back to bed after a Halloween night out with her friends
As the five-year anniversary of her daughter’s death approaches, Michaela remembered what a vibrant, warm and friendly person Alisha was.
One of the youngest in her year group, Alisha had only celebrated her 18th birthday shortly before moving to Liverpool – and was only at university for five short weeks before her death.
Michaela said: ‘At first she was a bit hesitant about going [to university] because she was a family girl but she loved her friends and was very sociable and was looking forward to that side of it.
‘She would make friends with everyone. I remember moving her into her halls and all the girls on her floor – by the time we left her she was already friends with everyone. She loved a chat.’
Older teenagers and new university students are at higher risk of infection because many of them mix closely with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their noses and throats.
Students can get the vaccine via their registered GP surgery or their University Health Centre.
Meningitis Now is now carrying out a pilot campaign focusing on Liverpool, with specific efforts to work closely with universities and targeting students with ads on their main bus routes through the city.
Michaela said: ‘There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about Alisha.
‘Her life was cut so tragically short and if I can help to prevent this happening to even one other young person, I will.
She had only just started at Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool when she contracted the illness and died
‘Please make sure you or your child is vaccinated. Please make sure you or they know the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
‘It is a rare disease, but it is also a disease that strikes indiscriminately and strikes fast. Because of this, knowing the signs and symptoms really can be the difference between life and death.’
She added: ‘From such a young age, Alisha was always a kind, caring and happy child growing up into a loving, thoughtful and beautiful young lady.
‘She loved spending time between her family and friends, enjoying evenings in at home, particularly with her baby brother or catching up with her friends socially.
‘But one thing was for certain, Alisha was a ‘Mother Hen’. She would always make sure others were okay before herself and she just loved taking people under her wing.
‘Alisha had a very dry sense of humour and was very loud but I wouldn’t have had her any other way and today, would give anything to hear that infectious laugh again.’
In the years since Alisha died, Liverpool Hope University has taken significant steps to ensure as many students as possible get vaccinated.
Meningitis Now is also working with other universities in the city on this important message.
John Ryan, Head of Student Welfare and Wellbeing, said: ‘We continue to take steps to ensure as many students as possible are aware of the dangers of meningitis and we are pleased to be able to support Meningitis Now’s campaign.
‘It is important that all universities encourage their students to protect themselves by getting the meningitis vaccine’.
As well as working with universities, Meningitis Now is also supported by GPs in the North West who want to make sure all young people and not just students know about the need to be vaccinated.