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Marshall's story

22nd December 2008

Brave Marshall fell ill with meningitis just days after his first birthday, causing him to lose both his hands and legs to septicaemia. His family and friends have rallied round to raise tens of thousands of pounds to fund prosthetic limbs

Marshall's story

Marshall celebrated his first birthday on 22 December 2008 and his family enjoyed a lovely Christmas Day.

But when he woke up on Boxing Day morning his mum Stephanie noticed a tiny rash on his forehead.

Worried that it was something serious, Stephanie and Moss, Marshall's dad, immediately bundled him into the car and drove to Treliske Hospital in Truro.

At hospital, Marshall became more listless and was developing a rash all over his body. The medical staff immediately rushed him into intensive care. Doctors confirmed Stephanie and Moss's worst fear - he had indeed suffered an attack of meningitis.

Doctors fought for over four hours to save Marshall's life. His vital organs failed on two occasions.

Dr Thys De Beer, Head of Intensive Care at Treliske Hospital, said: "Marshall is the sickest child I have ever seen. His survival is almost miraculous."

Transferred to Bristol

Marshall was transferred to Bristol Children's Hospital, which has one of the UK's leading specialist units in treating meningitis in very young children. Marshall's vital organs failed again and, once more, medical staff battled for hours to save him.

Over the next few weeks tests confirmed that Marshall had escaped brain damage and that his sight and hearing had not been impaired. But doctors had to tell Stephanie and Moss that Marshall would have to lose his hands and legs, due to the terrible damage caused by the septicaemia which often accompanies meningitis. Marshall's hands and legs were amputated on January 27.

Stephanie said: "We knew it had to be done, otherwise Marshall would not survive, but on the day of the operation Moss and I were just inconsolable. It seemed so unfair."

Marshall was allowed home in time for Easter. His mum and dad had maintained a vigil by his bedside throughout his ordeal. "We were so glad to be allowed to go home at last", said Moss, "while the medical staff had been marvellous, being in hospital for three months had taken its toll."

Restoring normality

From Easter, Stephanie and Moss tried to restore some sort of normality to their lives, with their priority being Marshall's care. Marshall faces a lifetime of rehabilitation while adapting to the use of prosthetic limbs, with the aim being to have Marshall ready for a first set of legs later in 2009. To allow this to happen, Marshall requires a considerable amount of physiotherapy, particularly to his legs, because the amputations and skin grafts have left his stumps very badly scarred and the skin very tight.

Stephanie herself is undertaking much of the physiotherapy and she received specialist training while she and Marshall were still in hospital in Bristol. She explained: "It was very important to me to be as actively involved as I could be in Marshall's care and rehabilitation. The physiotherapy is hard work and sometimes Marshall is more co-operative than others, but I enjoy it because I feel that it is making a difference and I know that it is helping Marshall."

Gradually, Stephanie and Moss have been able to become more involved in the HANDSTAND Appeal - the Appeal set up by Marshall's family to raise money for prosthetic limbs. Moss said: "We are very fortunate in having a large, extended family who have rallied round to support us. We were completely dependent on them setting up and launching the Appeal, as we were still in hospital with Marshall."

As a result of the HANDSTAND Appeal, Marshall has become a bit of a celebrity, having been featured in numerous newspaper articles, and having appeared on BBC, ITV and Channel 4 News.

"To be honest", said Stephanie, "We have very mixed feelings about appearing in the media. We know it has to be done to promote the HANDSTAND Appeal but we never wanted to be famous. We just wanted to be a normal, happy, little family."

Raising funds

Prior to Christmas, the HANDSTAND Appeal decided to hold a Christmas ‘Thank You' Party - to say thank you to everyone who had helped the Appeal and also to try to raise funds for Ronald McDonald Houses and Meningitis Now. Stephanie explained: "When Marshall was in hospital in Bristol for three months Ronald McDonald Houses provided accommodation for myself and Moss free of charge.

We simply could not have coped without it. Meningitis Now is trying to develop a vaccine to combat the disease. If we can help, in some small way, to prevent what happened to Marshall happening to someone else, we would be so pleased.

It might seem a bit odd to be raising money for another two charities but we felt that it was the right and proper thing to do, plus we just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped us and who continues to do so." Marshall was, perhaps understandably, inundated with presents for both his birthday and Christmas.

"He has been terribly spoiled", added Moss, "But if anyone deserves it, I suppose Marshall does after everything he has been through."

The best present of all was that the Appeal reached £135,000 and this was announced, poignantly, on Marshall's birthday - and caused huge media interest.

"It was the usual mixed emotions", said Stephanie, "Amazement and delight at reaching such an amount, worry and nervousness about the media, and terrible trauma at having to relive the events of this time last year."

Meningitis Now and the Handstand Appeal came together for a unique, fun and colourful fundraising event called Colour My Friday in 2010.

The event was aimed at all schools in the Cornwall area and money raised went towards the Handstand Appeal and Meningitis Now’s vaccine research to save children in the future from going through a similar battle.