FOUR-YEAR-OLD Sam Clarke was described by his father as a normal, fun-loving boy who had no health problems or illnesses.

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But one evening, having spent the day taking down Christmas decorations at the end of the festive period, Sam complained of stomach ache and feeling sick.

Nine hours later he was dead.

Sam had contracted a deadly strain of meningitis and despite being rushed to hospital his parents were told there was nothing doctors could do to save him.

Six years on, his parents Rachel and Steve Clarke, of Finchingfield Road, Great Sampford, are supporting Meningitis Awareness Week in a bid to encourage people to be MeningitisWise.

Mr Clarke told the Reporter it was vital parents were made aware of how quick the disease can strike and to seek urgent medical care if their child has symptoms.

“With us, we had nowhere to go because it wasn’t until the evening that Sam began showing symptoms and by that time it was too late to get it checked out at the doctors.

“He started feeling unwell around tea time and wouldn’t eat his tea. He went to bed early but then he started shivering so we gave him some Calpol and that seemed to be working.”

Mr Clarke said Sam woke up around midnight and complained of feeling sick. His temperature was still high so his parents decided to take it in turns to keep an eye on him.

“About 1am I went to see how he was and I noticed a small mark on his face. I called my wife and after lifting Sam’s pyjama top we saw the rash come up before our eyes – it was like he had been splattered with purple paint. I knew straight away what it was and called an ambulance immediately.”

Sam’s mum Rachel had just enough time to say “I love you” while she held his hand in the ambulance before he began losing consciousness. Although doctors worked on him for 40 minutes when he arrived at the hospital they were unable to save him. He died from meningococcal septicaemia.

“Obviously there was nothing we could have done but you still feel like there was,” Mr Clarke added. “I suppose that is just a natural reaction – you’re supposed to be there to watch out for your children.

“We just want to raise awareness of how deadly meningitis can be and encourage parents to get medical care if their child shows any symptoms.

“We were told by the paediatrician the morning that Sam died that often by the time children get a rash it is actually too late so the symptoms need to be spotted as early as possible. Meningitis can affect anyone at anytime and is completely devastating.”

Meningitis Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday, aims to raise awareness of the deadly diseases meningitis and septicaemia, which affect around 3,600 people in the UK and Ireland each year.

Symptoms to look out for include:

• Fever/vomiting

• Severe headache

• Stiff neck

• Dislike of bright lights

• Very sleepy/difficult to wake

• Confused/delirious

• Rash

• Seizures

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