Sheffield mum speaks out after losing her partner of 13 years to meningitis

Dan and Zoey Clayton with their daughter, Lily
Dan and Zoey Clayton with their daughter, Lily

It took just 48 hours for a Sheffield mum’s life to be turned upside down as she lost her partner of 13 years to meningitis.

Zoey Clayton lost her partner Dan – and the father of their little girl – on Christmas Eve last year.

Zoey Clayton, far right, with her sister, Katy Smith, and Dan's best friend Richard George

Zoey Clayton, far right, with her sister, Katy Smith, and Dan's best friend Richard George

Now brave Zoey, aged 42, is speaking out about the devastating illness in an effort to warn others that adults can get meningitis too.

She said: “I was devastated. You have your life sorted and within literally 48 hours, your life just turns upside down.

“I thought meningitis was just something children get and that’s why I wanted to speak out – hopefully it will stop someone else going through what we are going through now.”

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. The symptoms can easily be mistaken for a milder illness, but it can kill within hours or cause life-long disabilities.

Zoey and Lily Clayton

Zoey and Lily Clayton

Zoey, a full-time mum to three-year-old Lily, said finance director Dan, aged 45, first started feeling ill on December 19, the Friday before Christmas.

She said: “Dan was a successful guy at work. He was a grafter, a hard worker and a lovely dad.

“He got home and he was absolutely shattered as he had been working really hard.

“On the Saturday morning he woke up and said he was going to go to the walk-in centre – in the 13 years we’d been together he hadn’t been to the doctor.

“He said he didn’t feel like driving but I was making mince pies so I said for him to get a taxi.”

Dan was diagnosed with an ear infection and got some ear spray and pain killers.

That afternoon, they were due to travel to Chester to spend the weekend with Dan’s best friend and decided to carry on as planned.

But he spent most of the weekend in bed and the family returned to their home, off Abbey Lane in Sheffield, on the Sunday.

“He went off to bed and I took him some paracetamol,” said Zoey.

“Then later on I heard something upstairs so I went up and found Dan curled up in Lily’s bed.

“Something really wasn’t right so I phoned 111.

“Dan was getting very agitated and uncoordinated and in the end I said we needed an ambulance.”

Dan was taken to A&E at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital and scans showed he had swelling on the left side of the brain.

Zoey said: “I didn’t know what we’d be dealing with until 9pm that evening, when they said it was ‘life-changing’.

“Then within 30 minutes it went from ‘life-changing’ to ‘critical’ and there was a 99 per cent chance he wouldn’t survive.”

Dan was put on a life support machine but, despite medics’ best efforts, he became brain-dead.

He died of pneumococcal meningitis on the morning of Christmas Eve.

Zoey said: “Meningitis is awful - it takes people’s lives so quickly and I’m a single parent now. I’m a very positive person and we just have to keep ourselves going.

“Lily came home on Christmas Eve and I had to tell her that Dad wasn’t coming home.

“I told her that Dad really loves her and to this day he remains a massive part of our lives.”

Dan was a fit and healthy man who loved running and completed the Manchester 10K a number of times, always hoping to beat his previous time.

This year, a group of 16 friends and family members including Zoey, her sister Kate Smith and Dan’s best friend Richard George completed the event in aid of the Meningitis Research Foundation in his memory.

Zoey said: “So far we have raised over £25,000 in his memory but so many people don’t realise that adults can catch the disease.

“This disease has cost me my partner and my three year old daughter her father. Everyone needs to be aware it can strike anyone.”


Many people believe meningitis can only be contracted during the winter months and affects mainly babies and students.

The Meningitis Research Foundation has therefore launched an ‘Adults get Meningitis too’ campaign to highlight it can strike anyone, of any age, at any time.

The MRF’s chief executive, Christopher Head, said: “As Zoey is sadly aware, meningitis is a disease that can leave a baby, child or adult fighting for their life within hours of the first symptoms.

“Meningitis can be hard to recognise, as the early symptoms are similar to those of many other milder illnesses.

“Don’t be complacent if a loved one is sick – knowing the symptoms and acting fast can save a life. If anyone has any concerns we urge you to trust your instincts and seek urgent medical advice from your local GP or hospital.”

The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell.

Limb pain, pale skin and cold hands and feet are also symptoms, which tend to appear earlier than other symptoms including a rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.

If you are seriously worried about someone who is ill and has a rash, you can do the ‘tumbler test’.

Press a clear glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If you can see the marks clearly through the glass, seek urgent medical help immediately.