When Halifax teenager Joe Brayshaw takes part in the Leeds Triathlon on Sunday he will have just one thing on his mind, his best friend Lewis Hilton who died of meningitis just five months ago.
Joe, 18, is doing the swim, cycle and run for Meningitis Now to raise awareness and money for research into the disease that killed Lewis, his friend since primary school, on January 27 this year.
Lewis died just three days after first feeling unwell, but his death has helped six other people after his grieving parents donated his organs.
“Lewis rang me on the Thursday and said he wasn’t feeling too good and his dad had sent him home from work,” says Joe. “He thought he had flu as everyone seemed to have it.”
But on Friday Joe received another call saying Lewis, a keen rugby player who played for Old Rishworthians, had been rushed into hospital with suspected meningitis.
“On Sunday his life-support machine had been turned off. I never even got time to say goodbye to him.
We have been overwhelmed by the support from peopleTracy Hilton, whose son Lewis died from meningitis aged 19.
“I think that proves how quickly this disease can take over and just how much of a surprise it was when we heard the news.
“If I’d known the last time I saw him it was going to be the last time I could speak to him I would have made more of an effort to thank him for being such a good friend all throughout my childhood.”
That’s why Joe, an apprentice technician with Volkswagen, who turns 19 on Saturday, is determined for Lewis’s memory to live on.
“Just because something so bad has happened doesn’t mean I can’t make an effort to bring some good out of it.
“At Lewis’s funeral the collection raised more than £1,000 and so I thought if I could do something we could raise even more,” he added.
Joe has already raised just over £1,500 in sponsorship but is hoping for even more. All the money raised will go towards Meningitis Now’s lifesaving and life-changing work – funding pioneering preventative research, raising awareness and supporting those affected.
“I’ve chosen to support Meningitis Now to help to fund research for this horrible disease and to make sure anybody affected gets the support they need from the charity,” says Joe.
“I know from my own experience this charity really does everything it can not only for the person directly affected by meningitis but also the close friends and family of the victim.”
This will be Joe’s first triathlon. He’ll be taking on a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride and a 10 km run and is determined to complete the course.
“I’ve never done a triathlon before and that’s exactly the reason I decided to do this one,” says Joe. “I wanted to do something both challenging and unknown to me.”
He will be cheered on by Lewis’s parents Tracy and Morley Hilton, of Greetland, who are still struggling to come to terms with their beloved son’s death.
“We are very proud of Joe for what he is doing,” says Tracy. “Anything that raises awareness of the symptoms of meningitis and that there isn’t always a rash is a good thing.”
Despite the devastating loss of their only son, Tracy and Morley are determined not only to honour their son’s name but to work with Meningitis Now to get teenagers vaccinated against meningitis B – the strain of the killer bug that took Lewis’s life.
“Lewis had been vaccinated against other strains of meningitis – A,C, W and Y – just four months before he died, but the vaccine for meningitis B is only given to babies, although we have since found out that you can buy it for £100 at Boots,” says Tracy. “Had we known that we would have paid for Lewis to have it and he could be alive today.
“We believe children should be vaccinated at school against this strain, but if not, then people should know that they can pay for it privately.”
Tracy is still haunted by the events leading up to her “kind and wonderful” son’s death.
“He just thought he had the flu,” she recalls. “I went up to his room on Friday morning and he was in bed and complaining of a bad headache, I knew something was wrong as he was never ill and never complained and so I called the NHS helpline.
“I soon realised that they were talking me through the symptoms of meningitis and I knew then that I had to get him to hospital as soon as possible although he never developed the tell-tale rash we are told to look out for when they are small.”
But when they got to hospital Lewis was struggling to walk and talk and, despite being seen quickly, he died on Sunday morning. The Hiltons take some comfort in the fact that because Lewis never got the rash he hadn’t developed septicaemia – which means his organs could be donated.
Six people’s lives were saved thanks to Lewis. Tracy says: “We had been watch a programme about the shortage of organ donors and the need for more people to be on the register and although we didn’t ask Lewis directly, as you never think you are going to need to, he was there when we were talking about it and that’s why we knew it was the right thing to do.”
Tracy and Morley, who had to be treated with antibiotics themselves, set up a the Lewis Hilton Forever Fund which to date has raised more than £9,000 for Meningitis Now.
Old Rishworthians rugby club has created the Lewis Hilton Memorial Award which will be presented annually.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support from people, in particular Lewis’s rugby club, they have been amazing,” says Tracy.
You can support Joe’s efforts through the donations and events page at Lewis-Hilton.muchloved.com
Meningitis Now is working towards a future where no one in the UK loses their life to meningitis and everyone affected gets the support they need.
It does this by funding research into vaccines and prevention, raising awareness so people know what to look for and what action to take if they suspect meningitis.
Elaine Close, Meningitis Now Community Fundraiser for Yorkshire, said: “We’re so grateful to Joe for taking on this challenge. “His efforts will make a real difference to those who are at risk from meningitis and those whose lives have already been changed forever because of it.”
For more information www.meningitisnow.org