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Charlie Y's story

12th January 2017

Gwen’s young son Charlie was full of energy and excitement from his birthday party but went downhill quickly. Fortunately Gwen, from Montrose, trusted her instincts and called an ambulance. It was touch and go for a while as Charlie was put into a coma but the brave youngster has bounced back well from his experience. Gwen recounts their story here

Charlie Y's story

“It was the day after Charlie's third birthday and he was running about doing an assault course on the sofa, still full of energy and hyper from his birthday party the day before.

“As I was getting Charlie dressed I noticed a small faint spot on his chest and an even smaller mark on his ankle. I thought it might be a bite or something and didn't think anything of it at the time. Charlie ate his lunch as normal and was still full of energy and life at around 12.30pm.

“After lunch he sat on the sofa and went very quiet. He said he didn't want to walk to the shop so I put him in his pushchair. He saw a few of his friends in the shop but he didn't talk to them he was just staring quite blankly into space. I thought he must just be tired from the day before.

Grunting in his sleep

“When we got home I sat with him on the sofa and he fell asleep very quickly, which was unlike him. He then started to feel quite warm and he kept grunting in his sleep and seemed very unsettled. I called his dad and told him I thought Charlie might have a virus so could he bring some Calpol round.

“As I was on the phone Charlie woke up and was quite violently sick. This was at about 4pm. For the next two hours Charlie was repeatedly sick and very sleepy. He was very pale and very drowsy. My instinct told me this didn't seem like a normal bug so I called NHS 24 and they gave me an appointment at the out of hours doctors an hour’s drive away.

“Charlie continued to be sick but seemed to become more responsive and less drowsy when we arrived at the doctors. The doctor quickly checked Charlie's temperature and looked in his mouth and ears. I mentioned the two spots I had seen earlier and the doctor said that Charlie had a virus or possibly chicken pox. He said there was no need to go to hospital as Charlie's temperature was not that high and Charlie was responsive.

Thought it must be chicken pox

“This was at about 8pm. We got home about 10pm and this was when we noticed tens of spots on Charlie's body. They were still quite faint and after what the doctor had said I thought it must be chicken pox. Charlie fell asleep but then began to shake and was making strange whining/grunting noises. He was very pale and his lips were white.

“I called NHS 24 again and they asked me to do the glass test. The spots didn't disappear so they sent an ambulance. The paramedics came in and immediately did the glass test. This time the spots did disappear and they said I must not have pressed hard enough. They got his temperature down and told us that his high temperature was the reason for his shaking and unresponsiveness.

“Charlie was not sensitive to the light, he was able to move his neck, he didn't have cold hands or feet and once his temperature came down he was more responsive, so we were reassured that it was most likely just chicken pox. The paramedic made a call and was advised that there was no need to take Charlie to hospital so they left.

“This was at about midnight. Charlie then fell asleep. He continued to get more spots but as his temperature was nearly normal, he had stopped being sick and he seemed peacefully asleep we didn't think there was anything to worry about.

Saved his own life

“Charlie then saved his own life. At about 4am he woke up and asked for water and then asked to go through and sleep in my bed. I picked him up and took him through. As I put him down on my bed I noticed one of the spots on his arm had turned into what looked like a big bruise.

“At that moment part of me knew what it was but part of me was in denial. I called NHS 24 and was put through to a doctor. I explained everything that had happened and that his rash now looked like bruising. The doctor said they would make me another appointment at the out of hours doctors but that this could be in a few hours time. I asked if we should just call an ambulance instead but the doctor said she didn't think there was any need and asked if I wanted her to make me an appointment at the out of hours. I nearly said yes but my instinct told me I needed to call an ambulance so I hung up and called 999.”

“Luckily the ambulance arrived within minutes. The paramedic confirmed that it looked like meningitis and gave Charlie the antibiotic and rushed him out the house, into the ambulance and off to hospital. The ambulance journey lasted about 40 minutes and in that time Charlie went from having one 'bruise' on his arm to being covered in a purple bruise like rash all over his body and face.

“Charlie was rushed in and the room started to fill up with doctors and nurses surrounding him. Charlie was still conscious and able to talk but he no longer looked like Charlie, I could see the life was draining from him.

Too far gone to be saved?

“The consultant came in and explained that he thought Charlie had meningococcal septicaemia but not meningitis as he was still so alert and was not showing the classic signs of meningitis (stiff neck, sensitivity to light etc). I asked the consultant if Charlie was going to die, he paused and said "Yes" and that Charlie was too far gone to be saved.

“This was at about 6am. Less than 24 hours before Charlie had been running about full of energy and now all his organs were failing and he was dying. Charlie was then put into an induced coma and transferred to the intensive care unit at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. He was placed on life support and remained in a coma for a week.

“Thanks to the incredible treatment and care Charlie received at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and Edinburgh Hospital, Charlie survived. Nearly a year on Charlie has made a miraculous recovery. We are still unsure what the long-term damage to his kidneys will be and he has very bad scarring, but other than that he is back to being the same energetic little boy doing assault courses in the living room.

“Charlie is very lucky. The doctors who first saw him are not sure how he survived. Because Charlie didn't have many of the symptoms of meningitis it was nearly mistaken for a bad virus, but looking back I knew something wasn't right. A doctor is not able to diagnose a child over the phone. If I had taken the advice of the GP on the phone and not called an ambulance Charlie would have died in my bed within a couple of hours.

“If there is any chance a child could have meningitis they need to be taken to hospital immediately where they can be treated straight away. Meningitis can kill a fit and healthy person within hours.”