Brigid Morgan Needed Doctors on Three Continents to Help Her Recover from Bacterial Meningitis

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Brigid Morgan Needed Doctors on Three Continents to Help Her Recover From Bacterial Meningitis

Brigid Morgan was working for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan when she contracted bacterial meningitis – a serious disease that, if not treated promptly, can be fatal. She also developed an abscess on her spine that required expert care. She was flown from Kabul to London, and eventually to Charlotte, North Carolina. But her road to recovery was not a quick or easy one.

Brigid Morgan is not the type of person who shies away from difficult tasks – she’s a medical provider with the U.S. Embassy working in Kabul, Afghanistan. One day in February 2019, she felt some back pain after moving a rug. She thought maybe she pulled a muscle and brushed if off. But when she woke up later that night with the worst headache of her entire life and couldn’t move, she knew it was time to call for reinforcements. She sent a text message to a nurse on her unit, who came to Brigid’s bedside with paramedics.

“They took one look at me,” says Brigid, “and realized I was gravely ill.” 

Brigid was taken via helicopter to Bagram Air Base, thirty minutes north of Kabul, where she was admitted to a combat hospital. There, a lumbar puncture confirmed the possibility that Brigid had bacterial meningitis.

“I learned about bacterial meningitis in my medical studies as a Physician Assistant, but never thought I would experience it personally,” Brigid says.

A potentially fatal disease without prompt treatment

Brigid contracted bacterial meningitis most likely as a result of an abscess on her spinal cord. Meningitis in an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is a very serious disease that can be life-threatening. It is possible to have a full recovery from meningitis, but there can be lasting effects (including brain damage) if a person does not get immediate medical attention.

In the U.S., only about 2,600 cases of bacterial meningitis are reported each year; but worldwide, more than 1.2 million cases of bacterial meningitis occur each year, and the fatality rate can be as high as 70% without treatment.

Bacterial meningitis can be caused by several type of bacteria, some of which are more or less likely depending on a person’s age. Symptoms include a sudden, severe headache; fever; confusion; and vomiting. Both adults and children can get bacterial meningitis, and symptoms develop quickly.

Medical care that spanned three continents

At the hospital in Kabul, doctors discovered that Brigid had a spinal epidural abscess, which is when an area around the spine becomes inflamed and filled with pus. Brigid was then flown to London so doctors there could remove the abscess on her spine and give her a course of antibiotics. She spent two weeks in a hospital in London, but still wasn’t showing many signs of improvement.  

Brigid’s daughter and local television reporter, Sarah Blake Morgan, lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and knew her mom needed to be flown back to the U.S. in order to receive the care she needed. The regional medical officer who worked with Brigid in Kabul had also lived in North Carolina and knew that Brigid would receive expert medical attention there. So, Brigid was flown from London to Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Once she arrived at the hospital, Brigid had another emergency spine surgery to remove her spinal abscess, which had re-filled with pus. She was also given a course of IV antibiotics.   

“When I first saw Brigid, she was really sick and in a lot of pain,” says Michael Leonard, MD, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist who was involved in Brigid’s care. “Without further surgical intervention, she had a real possibility of being paralyzed or even dead.”

Dr. Leonard emphasized the team aspect of Brigid’s care, saying that her physicians at Atrium Health were in contact with her doctors in London throughout the course of her treatment.

The road to recovery – and back to Kabul

After her surgery and course of antibiotics at Atrium Health, Brigid was determined to get better and get back to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. But first, she had to undergo extensive rehabilitation. She started with physical therapy sessions 2-3 times a week, then progressed to intense outpatient physical therapy as well as ongoing IV antibiotics. Brigid went from using a wheelchair to a walker, then a cane – and eventually, walking on her own.

 “I didn’t know at the time, but my colleagues thought I would never return to Kabul because of the gravity of my condition,” she says. “While recuperating, I was encouraged to stay stateside and take a desk job, but I felt it was my duty to serve my country and I wanted to complete my assignment.”

Before Brigid could even consider returning to work in Kabul at the US Embassy, she had to prove she could wear a 20-pound bulletproof military vest and walk, one requirement to working in Afghanistan.

“She walked around with a 40-pound weighted backpack to practice what it would like carrying her gear again in Kabul,” says Dr. Leonard. “Brigid is a fascinating person with a unique spirit. She loves going on adventures. This was the first time I heard from a patient ‘Can I go back to Kabul?””

On July 15, Brigid returned to Kabul. She has made a full recovery and is doing well.