Mother-to-three, grandmother-to-two, accountant and cake decorator, Leigh, 56, Sydney, has always led an active life. She loves to travel, go to the football, attend aqua aerobics and spend quality time with her grandchildren.
In June 2009 however, Leigh’s world came crashing down, when the ex-smoker developed an unrelenting headache, and was overcome by exhaustion. Eight days later, she was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia, and hospitalised for the ensuing week.
She spent the following three months mounting an epic recovery from the devastating respiratory infection that had stolen the lives of her grandmother, grandfather, brother and father-in-law, and had almost claimed the life of her sister, who battled pneumonia on three occasions.
The infection took a heavy toll on Leigh, from a health and lifestyle, as well as a financial perspective.
Five years later, she contracted a viral strain of pneumonia.
This is Leigh’s story.
“In June, 2009, a week prior to my son’s engagement party, I was going about my daily activities, shopping and gardening and preparing for the event.
“Less than two days later, I was flat on my back, with a stomping headache, but no other symptoms,” said Leigh.
The following day, Leigh hosted her family members to a Sunday dinner, a week prior to her son’s engagement party.
Unfortunately however, she spent the evening lying on her bedroom floor, curled up in pain and unable to move.
She awoke the following day (Monday), feeling even worse, and elected to take the day off work. Two days later, having made no improvement, Leigh asked her husband, David, to drive her to the doctor.
“I was in so much pain and couldn’t drive, so my husband drove me to the doctor on Wednesday morning where I was administered a course of antibiotics, and sent home,” Leigh said.
Leigh spent the following two days overwhelmed by severe headaches and sheer exhaustion.
The day after (Friday), in a bid not to disappoint her son, Leigh worked hard to complete preparations for his engagement party. She went food shopping and returned home to clean her house, despite feeling very unwell.
“I distinctly recall dismissing my illness, thinking it was no big deal, and that I had just contracted the flu. So I pressed on with my party preparations,” said Leigh.
On Saturday night, Leigh’s complexion “turned white”, and she was unable to stomach any food.
“At 11pm, my sister drove me to hospital, where I saw a doctor, who instructed me to go home, take a painkiller and sleep,” Leigh said.
Failing to make any improvement the following day, Leigh’s sister drove her otherwise healthy sister, to the doctor for further investigation.
“The doctor listened to my chest and rang the hospital straight away, to tell them I was heading their way, and to admit me immediately.
“When I arrived at hospital, I was placed in isolation in the emergency department, and hooked up to a morphine drip to appease my headache,” said Leigh.
Leigh spent the following week in hospital, moving from “isolation in the emergency department on a drip, to a ward.”
By day two of her hospital stay, she was removed from the morphine drip and placed on morphine tablets. Her body was extremely dehydrated and she had lost seven kilograms from being unable to eat throughout her ordeal.
“It was only at the very end of the week that I realised where I was,” Leigh said.
“The doctors told me that if I had stayed in bed at home, I would have died.”
Up until contracting pneumonia, Leigh maintains she “never got sick.”
“I eat well, I’m fit and healthy, and tend to feel like Superwoman all the time. I just keep going.
“So contracting pneumonia came as a huge shock to me. I could have died,” said Leigh.
Leigh spent three months mounting a full recovery from pneumonia, which impacted both her health and her finances.
“I run my own accounting business, and I couldn’t work for three weeks post- my pneumonia infection.
“So contracting pneumonia caused not only health-related complications, but also incurred significant financial implications,” said Leigh.
In October, 2015, after falling ill once again while bookkeeping for a local kindergarten with “a bad cold” that travelled to her chest and “was crackling”, Leigh promptly visited her local GP, who took a chest X-ray and diagnosed her with a viral strain pneumonia – an infection from which she took a week to recover with the aid of antibiotics.
“Contracting pneumonia is an infection that you never forget. It’s really scary, because you literally don’t’ know what’s happening. It hits you like a train. It literally knocks you out. You just can’t get the pain out of your head. You can’t eat, drink or keep anything down. It’s just so painful, you feel like dying.
“Since contracting two episodes of pneumonia – bacterial and viral – five years apart, my breathing has never been the same,” Leigh said.
“I now find it hard to regulate my breath when I swim, and I’m really frightened of contracting the often fatal infection again.
“For me, pneumonia feels like someone has hit me with a bat and then sat on my chest,” said Leigh.
“That’s why I get a flu shot every year now, to help ward off the development of further respiratory infections, including pneumonia.
“Given that I now work around children, bookkeeping for a kindergarten twice-a-week, I will definitely get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia when I become eligible for the free vaccine in my mid-60s,” Leigh said.
“I would recommend the vaccine to anyone who is at risk of pneumonia, whether due to age, or other risk factors.
“It’s important to talk to your doctor about pneumococcal vaccination, because the infection is vaccine-preventable, and could literally save your life,” said Leigh.