Emma Mckibbin, from Lisburn in County Down, said she just started walking and didn’t finish until she had covered the full marathon distance after getting the brilliant news that little Josh had reached the point where he could stop taking antibiotics.
She said her feet were covered in blisters and she was walking like she was “nine months pregnant” after her marathon challenge – but so far, her incredible feat has paid off as she has already raised more than £600 and is still going strong.
Emma and Josh’s meningitis story started two months ago, when he had just turned 8 months old. Josh was her fourth baby and she said that from birth he suffered with various illnesses and infections.
“We didn’t have any health problems with the other three but Josh had sepsis when he was born and then was always prone to viral infections,” she said.
“Every week it was something different.”
One day, that different thing was suspected hand, foot and mouth disease – an unpleasant but fairly common childhood illness. Emma said Josh was recovering from this but when his temperature remained high she phoned the out of hours doctor. At this stage they were reassured his symptoms were probably still the after-effects of the infection but the following morning she found that he was still poorly.
“The next day he was sleeping in and I found he was listless, floppy, moaning – just not himself,” she said.
“Because I have three other children (aged 10, 6 and 2), I have something to compare him to and I knew he wasn’t right.”
Although she worried that she sounded like a “hypochondriac”, Emma called her local GP, who asked her to bring him in.
“They checked him over and although clinically he seemed fine, he was just very pale and quiet and I noticed he didn’t like being held."
“I was recommended to wait four hours and bring him to the hospital but in the end I decided I couldn’t wait that long. Even though there wasn’t a rash, I knew there was something wrong."
Emma took Josh to the local A&E but from there they were directed to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Emma praised the amazing team at the hospital and said a chance encounter while they were waiting to be seen may have saved her son’s life.
“We were on our way to triage when a nurse walked past and eyeballed him,” she said. “She asked what was wrong with him as he was such a horrible colour and was shaking."
Within two minutes, Josh was moved to a side room, his blood was taken, and a paediatrician was on their way to see him. Within twenty minutes antibiotics had already been started as a precautionary measure and they had some primary results – and the word meningitis started being “thrown about”. It wasn’t long before Josh was on his way for a lumbar puncture.
“And then a couple of hours later it was confirmed that it was bacterial”.
The next few days were “touch and go” for Josh. He was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and had MRI scans, which picked up fluid on his brain. He started having seizures and, said Emma, “multiple things weren’t right”. But Emma wanted to praise the staff on the Belvoir Ward of the hospital who she said were amazing and did everything they could to look after her baby.
In the end, Josh was kept in hospital for just under four weeks and had three MRI scans to monitor the fluid on his brain. The family went through many more scares with him – all the while juggling caring for their other children with the help of grandparents – until eventually he was allowed home.
He was then discharged to community to receive further antibiotics for another three weeks through his picc line from the nurses at Warren Children’s Centre who visited him every day until his MRI showed improvement. Emma wanted to praise these staff too – saying they really were a vital part of the team that were responsible for his recovery.
Through these scary weeks, Emma said she had had many questions about meningitis and had found the Meningitis Now website. As well as getting answers to some of her questions, she also found out about Marathon Month – our recently launched challenge to walk a marathon (26.2 miles) in a month.
“I’m probably the most unfit I’ve ever been but it said you only had to walk, and I wanted to turn our experience into something positive so I thought ‘why not?’”, she said.
“Everyone’s been great, they’ve really got behind me”.
Emma set her initial fundraising target at a modest £50 but she’s already raised an incredible 1,200% of that and is still going.
Although we suggest you can spread your walks out for the challenge over the month, Emma had other ideas. Having received the news about Josh’s recovery on the Friday – and set off on her walk on the Sunday - she didn’t stop until she had completed the full marathon.
“I’m aching like anything but I did it,” she said. “It took me about six hours and I walked right through Lisburn city centre but also through the surrounding countryside."
“But the challenge lasts for a month so I am going to see how many more marathons I can walk in that time."
“I’m not stopping yet!"