Yorkshire soldier's survivor's guilt over twin brother's meningitis fight

Soldier Marc Haigh speaks about his personal battle with survivor's guilt after his twin brother contracted meningitis at birth. Image: Tony Johnson.
Soldier Marc Haigh speaks about his personal battle with survivor's guilt after his twin brother contracted meningitis at birth. Image: Tony Johnson.

Soldier Marc Haigh was the lucky one, having escaped the meningitis infection his twin brother contracted at birth.

But he has lived in its shadow all his life, stricken by survivor's guilt and the knowledge that it could have been the both of them.

Huddersfield soldier Marc Haigh says his life has been overshadowed by meningitis, even though he never contracted it.

Huddersfield soldier Marc Haigh says his life has been overshadowed by meningitis, even though he never contracted it.

The illness changed the course of the twins' lives. Jordan was left with irreversible brain damage, resulting in severe learning and physical disabilities.

And Mr Haigh, ever indebted to the chances he has, feeling as if he cannot waste a moment. As though, were he not to live up to the man that Jordan could have been, he is wasting his every opportunity.

"I've seen what meningitis can do first hand," said Mr Haigh, from Meltham in Holmfirth. "For Jordan, it was life-changing. For myself, it was life-changing.

"It had impacted me more than I realised, growing up. It's taken me over 30 years to come to terms with these things.

Marc Haigh from Holmfirth has shared his story over meningitis survivor's guilt as he hopes to raise awareness of the impact on families.

Marc Haigh from Holmfirth has shared his story over meningitis survivor's guilt as he hopes to raise awareness of the impact on families.

"Growing up, it doesn't really dawn on you," he adds. "All these posters, all these signs in schools and community centres, they spring up after someone has been affected.

"It's reactionary. Meningitis is something that can happen, and take hold, very quickly. Timing is crucial.

"A rash might just be a rash, or a fever. But potentially it could be something much worse."

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Impact of meningitis

The twins, now 32, are non-identical. They were born healthy, but just before their first birthday Jordan developed meningitis B, contracting the illness twice.

The infection, caught at birth, left him with brain damage, resulting in severe physical and learning difficulties.

"I do remember, as a child, other children staring," said Mr Haigh, a serving soldier with the British Army, based at Catterick in North Yorkshire.

"Also, how parents would sometimes explain it. It's a difficult thing, when a child asks 'what's wrong with that boy?'. Quite often they would answer that he is 'poorly'.

"That used to anger me. He wasn't poorly. He was as a baby - but not any more. I've never known it any different. Jordan has always been how he is."

Jordan now lives in residential care, at Doncaster's Walton Lodge. The family are close knit, a firm fixture being matches at Doncaster Rovers, with Jordan a season ticket holder.

"He does need round-the-clock care," said Mr Haigh. "He can't really talk, he can say the odd word but that's it. He has seizures, he's registered blind.

"It could quite easily have been both of us that contracted it," he adds.

"It took me a long time to admit it to myself. I've seen firsthand the effects on Jordan. I never really recognised the effects on me."

Survivor's guilt

Mr Haigh has been tormented by survivors' guilt. For every mistake me makes, he says, he feels twice the shame. For every moment of happiness, he has felt as if he didn't deserve it.

“Throughout my life I have been living with a kind of guilt hanging over me," he says.

"I'd built up a false truth, over Jordan. That if he hadn't contracted meningitis, he would have been this great, amazing person.

"That he could have done anything he wanted, achieved anything. But that he never got the chance.

"The reality is, he probably would have been just a normal person, an average person. We will never know. But that has always been in my head."

Mr Haigh, who completed the London Marathon last year to raise funds for research, is speaking today to back Meningitis Awareness Week, calling for greater understanding and more support for families.

"From my experience and what I've seen, there only seems to be a big drive in spotting the symptoms when someone has already been affected," he says.

"It's as if the information comes out as a reaction, rather than it being there for everybody to see.

"It is an illness that takes hold very quickly. if the signs are spotted early, it gives them a better chance of pulling through.

"Jordan might have achieved great things, he might not have. He might have been just an average person. But he will never get that chance."