Grandmother who fostered 18 children dies after mosquito bite on holiday

Death: Veronica Varey, 62, was holidaying in Gambia when she developed flu-like symptoms

'Happy-go-lucky': Veronica Varey, who died from malaria, was described as the life and soul of the party

A great-grandmother who fostered 18 children has died on holiday in Africa after being bitten by a mosquito. 

Veronica Varey, 62, was suddenly struck by flu-like symptoms and died just days later from malaria. She had not taken her anti-malaria tablets during her holiday after being told by locals the pills would damage her kidneys.

Today, her devastated grand-daughter Chelsea, who was with her when she died, said: 'I still can't believe she has gone and in such a sudden and horrible way.'

Ms Varey, from Preston in Lancashire, was on holiday in Gambia with Chelsea, 19, when she was hit by one of the worst forms of malaria.

She developed pneumonia and her liver, kidneys and lungs began failing. 

After three days, a priest was called to give Ms Varey her Last Rites, but to his amazement, she rallied around and told him to get out.

Doctors believed Ms Varey, a retired cafe owner, had a chance of pulling through but she died just 11 hours later.  

Her body was flown back last week and her funeral service was held yesterday.

Chelsea said: 'My nanna and I were incredibly close and she meant everything to me. She was like a second mum, a best friend and a nanna rolled into one and was perfect.'

She added that her grandmother spent six months of the year in Gambia after first holidaying there seven years ago.

Chelsea said: 'My nanna loved the hot weather out there as she hated being cold. It was the smoking ban which really made her want to spend so much time in Gambia as she hated having to stand outside in the English cold weather whenever she wanted a smoke.'

But on her most recent trip, she contracted cerebral malaria.

'The doctor said she was a real fighter and thought she might actually pull through,' said Chelsea. 'But 11 hours later, she passed away. I couldn't believe it as I had always convinced myself nothing could happen to my nanna.

'She was such a strong person and I thought she would always be around.'

The risk of malaria - a disease of the blood transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes - is high in Gambia all year round and is a major cause of illness and death in the country.

Chelsea said: 'The risk of malaria is worse in the rainy season because there are so many mosquitoes around. My nanna was not taking anti-malaria tablets as it was the end of the rainy season and the people who live there told her that if you take malaria medication all the time, it damages your kidneys.' 

Ms Varey, who had a long-term partner Cedi, has left behind her daughter Annie, son Vincent, grand-daughters Chelsea and Kirsten and great-granddaughter Nevaeh.  She is also survived by two brothers, Jim and Vincent.

One of 11 children, Ms Varey was from a Romany travelling background.

Her brother Jim, 70, said: 'Veronica was the life and soul of the party and was a very happy-go-lucky person. She was very caring and generous and fostered around 18 children. She adored her family and was very close to them all.'

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