Mother of Manchester University student who died of meningitis urges students to get vaccinated

The mother of a Manchester University student who died of meningitis has urged students to get vaccinated.

Teygan Sugrue was just 19-years-old when he died of meningitis in his first weeks of university.

A self-taught linguist, Teygan, from Cornwall, chose to study Russian at Manchester University. 

“[His tutors said] he would always know the answer to all the questions…he was quietly confident”, his mother Ailsa told ITV News.

'Just think of it as like putting a seatbelt on': Ailsa Sugrue, whose son Teygan died of meningitis in his first weeks at Manchester University, is urging students to get vaccinated.

Ailsa, a nurse, said she spoke to Teygan in the days before his death and had noticed he had a cough.

“I spoke to him on the phone, he’d have a cough and he’d say: ‘Oh yeah, it’s the freshers’ flu, everyone’s got a cough’.

“That was really a few days before he got ill.”

“My husband rang him in the evening and he just sounded really tired on the phone he said ‘can you ring me back?’” Ailsa told ITV News at the family home in Cornwall.

“We just thought oh he’s been out and enjoying himself. And that was it really.”

Unbeknownst to Ailsa and her husband, Teygan had got ill not long after the phone call, collapsing that evening, in the hallway of his student accommodation.

A friend found Teygan and noticed a rash.

“She did all the right things and called for an ambulance and got help but he was too ill”, Ailsa said.

“He got into hospital but he didn’t survive.”

'He had a cough': Ailsa describes the shock of losing her son Teygan, who died on meningitis.

What is meningitis?

  • Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

  • Viral and bacterial are the most common causes of meningitis

  • Meningitis can kill

  • Meningitis can cause long-term after-effects

Ailsa described the devastating shock of suddenly losing Teygan.

“I just couldn’t believe it. It’s like a bomb going off in your life. 

“I can’t believe he was well, he was here not long ago…what could have happened?”

Ailsa said it was only after Teygan’s death that she started to understand the “devastating effects” of meningitis and how it could impact teenagers.

“My awareness [of meningitis] was just for young children but I had no awareness that the risk starts to increase again for young teens - from about 13 right to the age of 25 - and also the fact that anyone can get meningitis”, she said.

“It was a massive shock to us. You think: has that really happened?”

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

  • Early signs and symptoms can appear similar to 'flu' or a stomach bug

  • Fever

  • Headache 

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Muscle pain

  • Stomach cramps

  • Cold hands and feet

The festive period is one of the hardest times of the year for Ailsa, her husband and Teygan’s two siblings.

“Everything is all jolly and happy and you think: how can the world still be happy when you’re facing this awful hole in your life.

“You survive your first Christmas…I’m strong for [my two other children] and they’re strong for you and you think: I’ve got through that one, I can get through another one.

“A lot of other parents would say the same: We’re all survivors.”

'It's like a bomb going off in your life': Ailsa describes the shock of losing her 19-year-old son to meningitis.

Ailsa is now urging others - especially students - to get vaccinated against meningitis.

“Like I say to everybody: get your vaccines. People say to me ‘Why should I? I don’t like vaccines. 

“Just look at it like putting a seatbelt on. Most of the time you’re absolutely fine and you get to your destination. 

“But then maybe that time when you don’t have your seatbelt on you’re in an accident and you’re not fine. 

“And you’ve got to think: I’ve got to get my vaccines just in case I meet anybody. It just gives that extra layer of protection.”

Kristina Poole, health protection consultant for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) North West, said there are some "specific" symptoms people can look out for to help identify meningitis.

"These symptoms would be things like a stiff neck, photophobia [finding bright lights uncomfortable]...and a blotchy rash that's tested for by rolling a glass over the skin.

"It's a rash that doesn't fade under pressure", she said.

Ms Poole urged people to look out for these symptoms in themselves, friends, family and housemate. She said those with these symptoms to seek urgent medical attention.

Kristina Poole of the UK Health Security Agency describes some of the specific and non-specific symptoms of meningitis.

It's difficult for Ailsa to relive the moments leading up to Teygan’s death. But she says it is her way of paying tribute to her son. 

“I know that if he was here he would tell me: you’ve got to get the message out. So I do it for him," she said.

“He has left such a big hole in our lives but I feel he’s with us in a lot of things that we do.”

For more information, help and support with meningitis visit Meningitis Now:

  • Website:

  • Phone: 0808 80 10 388 (9am-4pm Monday - Thursday and 9am - 1pm Friday)

  • Email: Emails are answered during office hours only

  • By post: Helpline, Meningitis Now, Fern House, Daniels Industrial Estate, Bath Rd, Stroud, GL5 3TJ