A father who has devoted his life to fighting meningitis has described himself as “just an ordinary bloke” as he marks the 40th anniversary of his son’s death. Steve Dayman and his wife Gloria saw their son Spencer die of meningitis in 1982 when he was 14 months old, prompting them to set up a support group for other parents.
This grew into the charity Meningitis Now, which has spearheaded vaccine research and fought for babies to get meningitis vaccines on the NHS. Mr Dayman is launching the charity’s new campaign – Spencer’s Legacy: Nobody Left Behind – to raise £300,000 to fund research into vaccines and provide a postgraduate student placement at the Spencer Dayman Research Laboratories at the University of Bristol.
Recalling the death of his son on November 2, 1982, Mr Dayman, 74, told the PA news agency: “Spencer had been out for his morning walk in his pushchair and had his midday nap. Normally when he woke up from his lunchtime nap he’d be jumping up and down in his cot, shaking the bars as if to say ‘get me out of here’.
“But he couldn’t raise himself off the pillow. We called the doctor and they said, ‘well give him some Calpol and see how he goes’, so we did that.
“A few hours later, about five o’clock in the afternoon, the doctor came and said, ‘I think you should take him into hospital as a precaution’. We got to the hospital about six o’clock.
“Within 24 hours, Spencer was completely overwhelmed by meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia, and he died from the disease.”
Mr Dayman, from Bristol, witnessed his son’s death with wife Gloria, 74, by his side. He said the couple were “heartbroken and consumed by shock and emptiness”, adding: “I held Spencer – the devastation and void is something I’ll never forget.
“His death completely changed my life. In those days there weren’t any organisations, no leaflets, nothing about the disease.” The couple started fundraising locally with family and friends, then started to connect with other families as meningitis cases rose in other parts of the UK.
“That became a support group, and then the charity was set up in 1986,” said Mr Dayman, who was made an MBE in 2010. It was the start of the UK’s meningitis movement.
Having spent 40 years dedicated to meningitis awareness and research, Mr Dayman says he is determined to continue the fight for other families. He told PA: “Losing a child is something you never get over but, obviously, as time goes by, for most of us, we find the strength to carry on.
“For me, I was determined to raise awareness – for it to be recognised as a disease of national importance. We didn’t know any other families that had experienced bacterial meningitis.
“There was a vacuum there that needed to be addressed and we set off on our journey. We were told we couldn’t expect to see vaccines in our lifetime.”
Having personally raised more than £2 million through charity walks alone, Mr Dayman is determined to keep raising money in Spencer’s honour and would love to a see a universal meningitis vaccine. He said: “The vaccines we have at the moment don’t cover all strains, even the Men B vaccine, it protects against about 80% of group B.
“With pneumococcal, it’s a lot more difficult as there are so many strains. We need to improve the vaccines we have but, ultimately, if we could have a single vaccine for all strains of bacterial meningitis, that would make it more cost-effective.
“Men B is only offered to newborn babies, so those currently up to age seven are protected but lots of youngsters are unprotected unless their parents have paid for it. If we can give these vaccines in infancy, that could give good protection for many years and it’s the best way to make it cost-effective.”
The Spencer’s Legacy campaign will appeal to individuals and families, as well as companies, corporate sponsors and grant-making organisations. Mr Dayman added: “Spencer was our fourth child. We had three older ones and we had two other boys after we lost Spencer.
“Obviously they didn’t replace him but they have brought a lot of happiness into our life.”