Keelan O’Connor, a teenager from Bray, Co. Wicklow in Ireland unexpectedly lost his life to a devastating disease, meningococcal meningitis B, after showing symptoms for only two days.

On September 15, 2015, Keelan was playing football in the rain when he began experiencing flu-like symptoms. Little did he and his family know that over the next couple of days he would rapidly deteriorate and die.

Keelan was just 15 years old when he passed away. He was described as a “fit and healthy, six foot three teenager, who loved life and playing sport.”[1]

Meningitis Symptoms and Causes: Understanding the Disease

Meningococcal Meningitis is a disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides. Approximately 600-1,000 people in the United States contract it each year, and of those people, 10-15 percent will die. Among those who survive, approximately 1 in 5 live with permanent disabilities, including brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations.
While Meningococcal Meningitis can affect people of any age, preteens, teens and young adults between the ages of 11-24 are more likely to contract it[2].


What Causes Meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is an illness that is seen worldwide. There are five serogroups of meningitis, but the three most commonly seen in the United States are B, C, and Y. About 1 in 10 people have the bacteria in the back of their nose and throat, but have no symptoms and are considered “a carrier”.

The meningococcal bacteria is spread through sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, the bacteria is not spread through casual contact, but rather a lengthy contact with the infected individual[3].

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Meningitis B can often be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other illnesses, such as the common flu. The meningococcal bacteria infect the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord and cause swelling.

Symptoms Include:

Stiff Neck
Sensitivity to Light

The symptoms for babies are slightly different and are seen through inactivity, irritability, vomiting, feeding poorly, and slow reflexes[3].

If your child has these symptoms it’s important to go to the doctor right away.

Who is at Risk?


While anyone may be at risk of contracting the disease, infants, teens and young adults are more susceptible to it. The disease tends to spread wherever large groups of people gather. People that are more likely to contract the disease are those who have not received the vaccination, those without a spleen, those that are HIV positive and those with a complement component deficiency. Meningococcal Meningitis is prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, so people traveling to that area are more likely to come in contact with it.

How You Can Prevent the Disease

Maintaining healthy habits, like getting lots of rest, eating healthy foods, and staying away from others who are sick, are all ways that you can lessen the chances of you and your family members contracting this terrible disease. Also, learning as much as you can about meningitis symptoms and causes will help you to be prepared in the event that you encounter this fast-acting sickness.

Keelan’s mother, Leane O’Connor Keane, hopes to make a difference by spreading awareness to parents so that they don’t have to experience the same thing that she did with her son.

“I want to warn people about this devastating disease so that they know it can strike at any age and that young adults are the second most at-risk group.”[1]


This past April, the second annual Keelan O’Connor Cup football tournament was held by the Bray Neighbourhood Youth Project, where Keelan was a member before his death in 2015. A total of £660 was raised for the Meningitis Research Foundation in honor of Keelan, and Leane personally presented the winners with their trophy[4].


[1] Magic Mum. “We thought it was the flu but he rapidly deteriorated and passed away on Tuesday”. Retrieved on September 25, 2017 from

[2] National Meningitis Association. Statistics and Disease Facts. Retrieved on September 25, 2017 from  

[3] Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (July 6, 2017). Meningococcal Meningitis. Retrieved on September 25, 2017 from

[4] Meningitis Research Foundation. (April 27, 2017). Fantastic Result for Football Fundraiser in Ireland. Retrieved on September 25, 2017 from

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