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Ella C's story

5th May 2015

Peterborough mum, Emily Cairns’ life got turned upside-down when 13-month-old Ella’s flu like symptoms took a turn for the worse and she was diagnosed with meningococcal septicaemia

Ella C's story

Quick thinking by Emily and Ella’s doctor proved vital to saving her life. She recalls her experience here.

“On June 27th 2014 my 13-month-old little girl, Ella, woke up her usual, happy, energetic self after a sleepover with her best friend. I first noticed she was beginning to get a temperature when she went down for her nap after lunch.

After a couple of hours I tried to wake Ella but she wasn't having any of it and continued to sleep. Six days previously Ella had had her routine jabs, including her MMR vaccine. I was warned that a week after these injections she may suffer flu like symptoms, therefore I let her sleep thinking this was the problem. She always seemed sleepy after her routine injections.”

Huge bruises

“I woke Ella for her dinner but she wasn't interested in her food and still wanted to sleep – she was wiped out. I put her to bed that night and hoped she would be better after a good night’s sleep.

At around 5am the next day I awoke to Ella whimpering. She was being sick and her nappy was full of diarrhoea. She also had what looked like two huge bruises on her knees and on her right thigh where her MMR vaccine had been given. Meningitis honestly didn't even cross my mind as I had always associated it with a rash, not bruising.”

Life-saving visit to the GP

“I immediately called NHS 111 and they advised me that she would be seen by a doctor before 12pm. I felt like they weren’t taking me seriously and were brushing Ella off so I called our doctor. I told them it was an emergency and they asked me to come straight in. I arrived ten minutes before the surgery had even opened and we were called in immediately.

Dr Staton-King had a major role in saving my daughter’s life. I told him her symptoms and he knew straight away that she had an infection and something was seriously wrong. He gave her an injection of penicillin and called Peterborough District Hospital. He told me to head straight to A&E where a team would be waiting for us.

My memories at this point are a blur. I just remember that Ella was now very unresponsive, her hands and feet were freezing, her skin was becoming more mottled and there was more bruising on her toes and legs. I held my poor baby girl as they continuously tried, and failed, to get to her veins and add fluid to her body. They even tried to go through the bones in her legs, fracturing her leg in the process.”

Waiting game

“After a couple of hours she was transferred to critical care. My family and I were told to wait in a room while they did everything they could. After what felt like hours, three people sat us down and told us that our beautiful Ella was fighting for her life. They had already lost her twice and brought her back.

They had arranged for a team from London to airlift Ella to Addenbrooke's PICU in Cambridge that evening. For now she was on a ventilator and stable. I asked the doctor is my daughter going to be okay and all she replied was ‘I hope so’.

All around me my family were crumbling. I on the other hand went into shock. I remember looking at a nurse who had come to tell us Ella's condition and it was obvious she had been crying. I think that’s when it hit me.

They told me I could go and see her. Seeing your child helpless on a ventilator, with pricks all over her body where they had failed to get a line in to save her life was heart-breaking.

After Ella was transferred we were able to stay with her in ACORN house, accommodation for the parents of sick children. The first 48 hours were critical and they told me to expect more complications and a dip in her condition as she was so poorly. Ella was still fighting for her life and I felt completely helpless.

The next day she was given a blood transfusion and once her blood pressure had sorted itself out she was stabilised. I will never forget the relief I felt when, after 48 hours of no further setbacks, I was finally told that my Ella was going to make it.”

Road to recovery

“She stayed on the ventilator for 12 days, ticking every box she was supposed to and getting stronger each day. The fluid she had been injected with to keep her alive caused her to swell up to nearly double her size. She was very weak but I was so happy to finally be able to hold my little girl in my arms again after everything she had gone through.

By the time she came off the ventilator she had finished her antibiotics and after three days on the ward we were able to take her home. She was very weak and her legs were covered in special plasters as the bruising on her knees and thigh were now blistering. Ten weeks after contracting meningitis, my daughter became stronger still and took her first steps. This was amazing after all her little legs had gone through with the septicaemia.

It’s coming up to a year now and Ella continues to prove she’s a fighter. She still struggles sleeping in her own bed - she was terrified of her bedroom and being alone when she first came home and still isn't happy unless she's sleeping with someone she loves.”

An inspiration to us all

“The consultant who saved Ella’s life continues to be amazed at her progress and told us that Ella was the poorliest child she has ever witnessed in 10 years working for the NHS. We don't know for sure if she will have any long-term effects. She still attends regular hearing tests and so far there's not been a problem. I sometimes think she struggles with her concentration and temper, but she’s nearly 2 so it could just be her age!

Ella is our little inspiration and every day I think how proud I am of her. She's beaten the odds and I hope her story brings hope to others who have fought this disease and to their loved ones – it’s a disease that affects us too and is something that I don't think I will ever be 100% over.

This experience has changed me for the better. It’s made me stronger and it’s proved my daughter’s strong too. Reading others’ experiences and speaking to someone on the Meningitis Now helpline has been amazing – it’s helped me to understand my emotions and realise that I’m not alone in this experience.”