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Bella's story

27th March 2015

Two-year-old Bella, from Alfreton in Derbyshire, went to hospital five times before her meningitis was diagnosed. But it was the best Christmas present the family could have wished for when she finally responded to treatment

Bella's story

Now her grateful dad, Chris, is taking on ‘12 months of madness’, a series of challenges to raise awareness of the disease and funds to help us fight it. Mum Cherry picks up the story.

“Wednesday 10th December 2014 was a normal day. Our 2-year-old daughter Bella had been happily playing all day. Then, at 5pm, I sat her down for her dinner. But, as I was seeing to our other daughter, who was five-months-old, I could hear Bella whimpering. I asked what was wrong but she wouldn't talk to me. I felt her head and she felt very warm and she started shaking and her hands were freezing.

I decided to give her a drink and some paracetamol and put her to bed, thinking she was coming down with a bug. A couple of hours later Bella woke up crying. When I got to her she was drenched in sweat, shaking and breathing really fast. Her hands were still freezing, so I took her temperature and it registered up to 40 degrees before she pushed me away. I rang 111 straight away and they advised me to take her straight to a hospital walk-in centre, which my husband and I did. Once there she started vomiting in the waiting room.

We were quickly seen by a nurse practitioner, who after the usual checks, advised us straight away that she was ruling out meningitis as Bella wasn't sensitive to the lights and she could move her head up and there was no pain in her neck. She advised that Bella had a virus and a bit of a sore throat and sent us away with some penicillin."

Either chickenpox or scarlet fever

“Once home Bella wouldn't take any of the penicillin. She spent all night vomiting and couldn't keep any water down. Her temperature didn't come down at all and by the next morning she had come out in a blotchy rash all over her body. In amongst the blotches were tiny red pinpricks that didn't blanch when under a glass. I rang our GP as soon as they opened and they told me to take Bella straight in. The doctor examined her and said she believed it to be either chickenpox or scarlet fever, keep an eye on the rash overnight and if it starts to blister it’s chickenpox. If not, call back in the morning and we will treat her for scarlet fever.

I took Bella home and the symptoms continued. We couldn't get her temperature down, she continued to vomit and was lifeless and fatigued. The next morning the rash was still there, so I rang the GP back and this time they advised me to call an ambulance. The paramedic arrived within minutes and started checking Bella over. Her temperature was still peaking at 40, her heart rate was up, she was still not eating and vomiting as she lay lifeless on our sofa.

Again the paramedic advised he didn't think it was meningitis, but he wasn't happy with her condition and said she should go to hospital. At hospital Bella was seen by a doctor, who advised that Bella had a virus and the rash was nothing to worry about - just carry on giving her paracetamol and ibuprofen to keep her temperature down and she'll be better in a couple of days."

Lifeless and just wanting to sleep

“We went home and Bella's symptoms continued. It was now the 13th December and Bella still had a temperature, rapid breathing, vomiting all night and was complaining of head and tummy ache. She was lifeless and just wanting to sleep or lie down, she wouldn't sit up. Again, I rang 111, as I was worried about her vomiting all the time. A doctor called me back and advised it was nothing untoward and it would take a few days for her to get over the virus.

By Monday 15th December there was still no improvement in Bella’s condition. She still had a high temperature, rapid breathing, was lifeless, wasn't talking or eating, kept putting her hands over her eyes, and complaining of head and tummy pain. At this point I just didn't know what to do, so I rang the GP for advice. They told me to go straight to the surgery for Bella to be seen.

The GP couldn't diagnose what was wrong but wasn't happy with Bella’s condition and told me to take her straight up the hospital. As Bella lay lifeless on the GP's table I overheard her on the phone to the hospital saying that there was something seriously wrong with Bella but she didn't know what. I came out of the GP's surgery in floods of tears, thinking the worst and not knowing what was wrong with our little girl. While waiting at the hospital I was cradling Bella in my arms with her not responding to us and wondering what on earth could be wrong with her. We were called in to be seen by a nurse practitioner and he quickly diagnosed that Bella had tonsillitis.

Relieved to finally have an answer

“We were relieved someone had finally given us an answer and we went home with some penicillin and the promise that she would get better in a couple of days. We were happy we could finally make our little girl better, but, three days into taking the penicillin, Bella had still not improved. Although there was no rash anymore, just a couple of pinprick spots, she still had a high temperature, was lifeless and couldn't sit up and constantly complained of tummy and head ache, often screaming in pain.

On Thursday 18th December I rang the GP for Bella to be seen again as there was no improvement. She was seen by a nurse practitioner, who advised us to take her back to hospital. Once at the hospital the doctor who sees Bella advises that her tonsils are still red and she needs to continue on the penicillin and it will work in a few days.

Two more days pass and there is still no improvement. Bella is screaming all through the night with head and tummy ache, so I ring 111 again for advice. They book me an appointment to see an out of hours doctor on Saturday 20th December. This time my husband takes her to be seen but after being prodded and poked so many times, Bella decided that she didn't want to be examined again. The practitioner told my husband that if our two-year-old daughter wouldn't let her look in her mouth then she couldn't help and then sent him away, saying Bella had to finish her course of penicillin.

Feeling deflated and not knowing what to do for the best we listened to the advice given and continued to give Bella the antibiotics and look after her as best we could.

Still no improvement

“By Monday 22nd December there is still no improvement in Bella’s symptoms, so again I ring the GP who tells me to take her straight in. This time the doctor sat with me and Bella for over an hour, going through her symptoms and seeing how frustrated I was that nobody seemed to be listening to me that my little girl was poorly and wasn’t getting better.

She remained lifeless and unresponsive. The GP didn't know what was wrong with her but was concerned about her condition and was most concerned about the symptoms of her shaking and the unrelenting high temperature. He advised that Bella needed to go back to hospital and promised that he would follow up her treatment if they decided to send us away again. So, for the fifth time we took Bella to hospital.

This time it was different. Straight away we were taken into a cubicle and advised that they wouldn't let Bella go until they had found what was wrong with her. She had bloods taken and a chest x-ray and they had come back clear, so they were still baffled as to what was wrong. While waiting to be taken to a ward, Bella was peacefully sleeping on the bed. As we sat and watched over her she began to turn blue, her skin was cold to touch and she had little beads of sweat all over her face.

We called the nurses and they rushed in to Bella. She was taken to an isolation room and hooked up to an antibiotic drip. Still unaware of what was wrong we sat next to her bedside as she slept, until a doctor came in and said that they still didn't know what was wrong but would like to do a lumbar puncture just to rule a few things out. Around 1am they took Bella off to do the lumbar puncture and shortly after, once Bella had gone back to sleep, my husband decided to go home to get some rest.

My whole world fell apart

“I remained at Bella’s bedside. Just after 3am the doctor came in with the results and my whole world fell apart. The lumbar puncture had shown that Bella had an infection in her brain, which they believed to be meningitis. The nurse began to tell me that they were amazed by Bella as they had never expected the results to show meningitis, but her white blood cell count was so high, off the charts, that usually a child in her condition wouldn't normally be conscious.

They told me that Bella must be such a strong little girl to have withstood this infection for all this time. It explained her screaming in pain every day as the inflammation on the brain would have been excruciating. It destroyed us to know that she had been suffering for so long. The doctors advised us she could be in hospital for up to three weeks depending on the strain of meningitis. With that news we made the heartbreaking decision to send our five-month-old baby to stay with my parents 50 miles away while we stayed at the hospital with Bella.

The next few days passed in a blur, but Bella responded really well to treatment and two days later, on Christmas Day, we sat around Bella’s bedside while, for the first time in two weeks, she could sit up and smile. It was the best Christmas present we could have wished for".

Taking her first steps again

“After a week of treatment Bella was discharged to recover at home. It was hard work as she still suffered pain and was so weak that she couldn't walk, but she was a determined little girl and two weeks after coming home from hospital she took her first steps all over again.

Fast forward three months and Bella has recovered really well, although we have recently found out she has lost her hearing in her right ear. But she has already adapted and it doesn't seem to be holding her back.

After first getting her diagnosis we didn’t really know anything about meningitis, so we set about researching it and came across Meningitis Now. It proved to be such a wealth of information to us throughout Bella's experience and has helped us to come to terms with what happened to her. We found out that a lot of the after effects she experienced when she returned home are very common and that put us more at ease.

As parents it's the most difficult and heart-breaking time to watch as your child is fighting a devastating illness, not knowing whether they are going to survive and not knowing when or if you're going to be taking them home from their hospital bed.

We have been traumatised by Bella’s ordeal, plagued with nightmares and feelings of guilt about whether we could have stopped her suffering for so long. Through Meningitis Now we found that these feelings are normal to experience after such a traumatic event and it was reassuring to know there are resources on hand to help us as a family should we need them.

Seeing Bella overcome the illness and go from strength to strength every day is amazing. She's such an inspirational little girl.

Now Bella has recovered and we are very passionate about fundraising to help people who have suffered this disease and also the campaign to roll out the vaccine so other children don't have to suffer like Bella did."

12 months of madness

“My husband, Chris, has set himself a challenge called '12 months of madness' and each month for 12 months he is taking part in an event. So far, he has completed a 10 mile assault course known as 'the beast' and a duathlon consisting of a 10k run, 26 mile bike ride and a 5k run. His next event is the Derby 10k on 19th April followed by ‘the outlaw’ half ironman on 31 May in Nottingham. At every event he is sporting his Meningitis Now vest.”