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Finn's story

28th August 2015

Within hours of waking, nine-month-old Finn Shillaker was lying lifeless on a hospital bed after contracting pneumococcal meningitis

Finn's story

His father, Alec Shillaker, of Nottingham, recalls the terrifying phone call he received from his wife on 24 July 2013 which began the longest night of their lives.

“At exactly nine months old, our son, Finn, woke up out of sorts. He was pale and lethargic and unwilling to engage. We took his temperature and it was about 40 degrees; the highest it had ever been. He was also crying in a way we had never heard before.

We gave him paracetamol and put a cold flannel on him to try and bring his temperature down and waited for the doctors’ surgery to open to book an appointment with the GP. Finn's temperature did come down and he was drinking his milk, but he continued to cry and would still not interact.”

My wife trusted her instincts

“My wife, Victoria, took Finn to the GP, but they did not know what was wrong with him. They offered to prescribe antibiotics and send him home, but in the absence of a firm diagnosis, she asked for a referral to hospital.

Following her ‘mother's instinct’, Victoria took Finn to hospital and they initially suspected that he had tonsillitis. They took him up to a ward on a bed; they would not let Victoria carry him as they said he needed to be near the oxygen.

At this point my wife, who had been keeping me updated as I was at work, called to say that she thought that this was more serious than just a common infection and that I needed to get to the hospital.”

No one could tell us if he would survive

“Victoria had to hold Finn still whilst the doctors took a blood test and did a lumbar puncture. When they saw the spinal fluid the doctor commented to her colleague that it was cloudy. When asked what that meant she was told they suspected he had meningitis.

Finn had to wait for what seemed like forever to get the all-important antibiotics.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, about an hour after that first phone call, Finn was lying lifeless on a hospital bed, silent and so pale, with a drip in his arm. The medical staff continued to monitor him, but no one could tell us whether or not he was going to survive.

We were moved from ward to ward as Finn continued to go downhill. He became dependant on the oxygen to keep his blood saturation levels up and we just sat there, staring at the ever increasing number of monitors, praying for some sign of recovery, but none came."

We had the longest night of our lives

“By that evening, his fontanel was bulging and the staff were becoming increasingly concerned. They suggested that he be moved again, though we were reluctant as it felt that every time we were moved, there were more interventions and we were worried that this next step would mean life support.

It also meant accepting that the condition was worsening to the point where we started to fear that he was not going to make it. However we had to do what was best for Finn, so we moved again.

They wanted to send us to the High Dependency Unit, but it was full, so we ended up going to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

It was the longest night of our lives. But the next morning Finn opened his eyes and said 'daddy'; his first word in 36 hours and our first sign that he had turned a corner. He was starting to win the battle against meningitis, although at this stage we were still unsure whether or not there would be any after-effects.”

Finn continued to recover

“Over the course of the next week we all remained in hospital, being moved between wards as Finn continued to recover. Each day he did something again for the first time since that awful day when he was diagnosed; talking, a smile, sitting up, eating and eventually starting to play and read books.

Eventually we were allowed to take him home, though there was then another week of daily visits from the nurse to administer the antibiotics, with a number of trips back into the hospital to have new cannulas inserted.

We visited a consultant a number of times. He had tests to check his hearing and neurological function and charted Finn's development, but finally, about six months later, the doctors gave Finn the all clear.”

He has been incredibly lucky

“It appears that he has been incredibly lucky and made a full recovery. He is now almost three and he is absolutely amazing. You'd never know that he had meningitis, though it is something that we'll never forget.

The moral of our story is to follow your instincts. You know your child better than anyone else and if you think something is wrong then fight until you get a diagnosis.

We believe that Meningitis Now do a great job raising awareness and in funding research to develop vaccines and treatments.

We're now trying have to help raise vital funds for Meningitis Now and entered a competition in a bid to win them £10,000. Please vote for us to help this fantastic charity.”

Alec and Victoria have entered the Mountain Warehouse Charity Challenge, with a prize of £10,000 for their chosen charity. The challenge looks for individuals who have an endearing story and are participating in an extreme outdoor challenge to raise money for charity. People are asked to vote for their favourite challenge.