“Until December 1999, I had a perfectly healthy five-month-old baby, happily sitting on his 91st centile line.
It had been a normal and uneventful birth. Then Felix got flu, the kind of flu that makes me snort with derision when people with a cold say they’ve got flu.
“That kind, the kind that saw me take him to the doctors three times in one week because I was worried, worried about him dehydrating, worried that he had a chest infection, just really, really worried. I was pooh poohed each time and told he was fine.
“Felix woke up on Saturday 11th December, noticeably iller than he had been the day or night before, pale to the point of waxiness, really quiet, and faintly blotchy, like cold winter skin on your thighs. But, no more temperature. Alarm bells rang but I couldn’t place them. He didn’t seem to mind the light, at five-months-old he was too young to tell me if his neck was stiff and if he had a headache. There was no rash.
“After messing around with the doctors out of hours service (which is another story all together), I took him to hospital. I assumed at this point that he had pneumonia; he had had flu after all. Although he didn’t wake once on the journey there, I wasn’t yet beside myself until the point he was seen by triage (which was thankfully immediately). They told me to follow them and run. So, run I did, to resus, at which point the doctors stripped him of his clothes to discover the unmistakeable petechial rash around his groin.
“As luck would have it, Barnet Hospital were extraordinary but they also had St Mary’s paediatric retrieval team there, who spent over six hours resuscitating him and getting him stable enough to transfer to St Mary’s. The journey from Barnet to Paddington took 15 minutes in rush hour pre- Christmas traffic. God only knows what the driver was on, but I’ll be forever thankful for his speed.
His heart monitors stopped
“Felix’s heart monitors stopped at one point and there was not a peep from my poor boy. It transpired later that he did have a chest infection too, a bad one, one that meant that the septicaemia that was shutting down his body and stopping him breathing properly was probably having a field day. He spent a week in hospital and a further 10 days on IV antibiotics and then he was fine.
“Except he wasn’t. I won’t detail each part of the last 16 years, partly because it’s too long and partly because I really can’t bear to. He’s profoundly deaf in one ear, suffers horrendous tinnitus, dizziness, bouts of seizures and his immune system is shot. He’s been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and coeliac, and God only knows what else is in store.
“This isn’t even touching on how he’s been affected psychologically. Needless to say there have been various psychologists, a psychiatrist and CAMS involved.
Bitter sweet news
“So, it was bitter sweet when the MenB vaccine was revealed, because it’s too late for him, too late for me and too late for our family. This disease during that week in December stole my perfectly healthy happy baby and left me with a different baby altogether, a different child and now nearly a different man. I love him, of course I do, as I did before his illness, but I mourn the loss of something that might have been so different for him, something kinder and easier and a little bit safer.
“So, if you’re debating whether or not to vaccinate, whether it’s for MenB, measles or anything else, remember that by vaccinating your children you are also protecting other people’s children; those who are too young to be vaccinated or who are medically unable. It’s very easy to forget that measles remains one of the biggest killers of young children globally and that’s not counting the lasting effects it can have, which are not entirely dissimilar to those of meningococcal septicaemia.
“Thankfully MenB is rare, but if the situation was to arise now, and I discovered someone had refused the vaccine and put my child in the situation he is now, I’m not really sure what I’d do. Something quite unspeakable probably, using filthy language and a large amount of violence!”