Panto star visits University
Press release issued: 11 January 2010
Panto star Joe Swash swapped his Prince Charming costume for a University lab coat when he met a little girl from Bristol who almost died from meningitis a year ago. Ashlee Downes, from Almondsbury, was just three months old when she was struck down by the most deadly form of the disease last year.
Along with Ashlee and her mother Rachael, Joe saw first-hand the £200,000 project which Meningitis UK is funding at the University of Bristol to find a vaccine for Meningitis B – now the most common strain of the disease in this country.
Joe, who is currently starring in Snow White in Bristol and is a patron of Meningitis UK, met the fully-recovered youngster as he learnt about the work the charity supports at the University. The actor, who was struck down by a rare form of the disease in 2005, is supporting the Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign.
Joe said: “The work that’s going on at the University is brilliant. Meningitis B affects so many people and the work to find a future vaccine to prevent it is such a well-deserving cause.”
Professor Neil Williams and his team at the University have embarked on a ground-breaking study to help protect people from meningitis B. Although no vaccine exists for the deadly meningitis B in the UK, researchers are using one that was developed for an outbreak of the disease in New Zealand. The first phase of the project, which studied responses that occurred after natural exposure to meningococcus B in around 35 volunteers, is now nearing completion.
Joe was 23 when he fell ill with meningoencephalitis - a rare form of viral meningitis which causes inflammation of the brain. He said: “I fell ill about four years ago. The only thing I knew about meningitis was that there’s a rash. It wasn’t until I got the disease that I realised there are so many different forms you can catch and how it affects people.
“I remember waking up and being off balance. It felt like I’d had a stroke because I couldn’t move one side of my body. Going to hospital was a blur. It took about seven months before I could go back to work. I’m lucky because I survived unscathed when so many people don’t.”
The disease left Joe struggling with his co-ordination and speech, fearing his acting dreams would be shattered. Thankfully, he recovered and went back to Eastenders before being crowned King of the Jungle in 2008.
Little Ashlee was very much a fan of the star, even planting a kiss on his cheek during the lab tour. The 16-month-old is literally one-in-a-million after getting a very rare strain of pneumococcal meningitis. Doctors said that had it not been for her mother’s quick-thinking then Ashlee may not have received treatment for the killer brain bug in time, especially as pneumococcal meningitis causes death in one in six cases. Luckily she pulled through and was allowed home after ten days in hospital.