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Matt's family story

29th September 2016

One family experience of meningitis may be considered unlucky, but 33-year-old Matt Davenport, from Fernwood in Nottinghamshire, has seen four cases in his immediate family group in recent years. He recounts his experience here

Matt's family story

“For those of you who know me and for those of you who don't, my name is Matt Davenport, I'm 33 with a wonderful girlfriend and two amazing children; Fin 6 and Taylor 4.

“I wanted to raise awareness of this illness, because both of my children had meningitis before they were 18 months old. Unfortunately, we have also had two other cases of meningitis in the family. My girlfriend Emma caught it, and also my mum - which many people won't be aware of. So, in our immediate family group, we have had four cases of meningitis in recent years.

“My mum had it first; then Emma had it in 2010.

“It was my children falling ill to meningitis in 2011 and 2012 that prompted me to want to raise awareness of this illness. Seeing both of my young children in such a vulnerable position was heart- breaking. Being so small and being just babies, they completely depended upon us as their parents to protect them. In this case we were unable to do this, as it's invisible. It made me realise how precious life is.

“Most people will be aware of the signs of meningitis, but often think of the red rashes under a glass. I want to raise awareness of the earlier signs, so you can catch it earlier like we did (thankfully).

“When the boys both caught meningitis on separate occasions, the actual red rash didn't appear until we were already in hospital each time.

Lethargy and blotchy skin

“For Finley, he was around 18 months old, and his early signs were lethargy, fever and blotchy skin (which could easily be put down to a cold virus). He was off his food, and just wanted to sleep.

“We took him to A&E as we couldn't get his fever down after 24 hours, and felt like something wasn't right. When he was taken into a side room to have his observations done (heart rate, oxygen levels etc) it became apparent something more serious was going on, as his O2 was dipping, he was breathing fast and his heart rate was also too fast.

“At this point he had started developing the rash of red dots on his tummy. The nurse pressed a glass on it, and when they didn't disappear everyone kicked into action so quickly. Loads of nurses and doctors came in, all each doing their part to treat Finley and get his pain under control. They put a cannula in his foot to get medicine into him asap. We were kept in hospital for one-and-a-half weeks, and discharged, with Finley making a full recovery.

“For Taylor, who contracted the disease when he was 10 weeks old, it was a really hot day and we were out at a theme park for the day. I put Taylor's warm body down to the unusually hot weather. Throughout the day Emma was trying her best to stop Taylor crying, he was very irritable. She would go off to find somewhere to sit, and try to feed him his bottle whilst I was keeping Fin entertained, and come back once Taylor had fallen asleep, not wanting his milk.

Cold hands and feet

“When we got home that evening, Taylor was still quite warm to touch, but his skin was pale and blotchy, and he had cold hands and feet. Emma felt that he must have a cold and was developing a fever, as he was hard to settle and just kept crying. He wouldn't drink his milk either as he was too busy crying. Because he was only 10 weeks, Emma thought he might need Calpol, but was it okay to give it to him at that age?

“She rang 111 to find out. One of the initial emergency screening questions on 111 was ‘Is your child unusually irritable?’ Emma thought and replied ‘yes’. The operator asked again, saying this was an emergency question and only reply ‘yes’ if he really was out of the ordinary. She said ‘yes’ again, and based on that answer, the operator said to get him checked out at A&E. Emma decided to take him based on the advice, but thought they would think she was a clingy mum and send her home. She said she'd be back soon and off she went.

“At hospital, Emma was taken into the same side room that Finley had been seen in two years earlier (which was unfortunate, bringing back bad memories as soon as they went into the room). When they started to do Taylor’s observations, the heart rate machine he was linked up to started beeping, as did the oxygen machine, which led doctors to run in and start taking blood tests. Emma didn't know what was happening, but sat there in a daze and let them do what they needed to.

“The doctors all then left 10 minutes later, and one doctor sat down and gently told Emma that Taylor was suffering from sepsis, and was ‘very poorly’. He said they needed to find out why, so would do a lumbar puncture (testing spinal fluid for meningitis through a large needle put into the spine), among other blood tests. At this point, Emma called me and said something bad was happening and I needed to come in asap. I got Fin with one of our parents, and came straight away.

Needed a lumbar puncture

“As soon as I got there, doctors took us into a ward, and into a room. They told us we needed to leave as they needed to do the lumbar puncture straight away, which would be distressing for us to watch and distressing for Taylor having it, as there would be no local anaesthetic as it was urgent they take this sample.

“We walked to the end of the corridor, but we could still hear Taylor's screams down the corridor, which still leaves Emma in tears today. After it was done, he had a feeding tube put through his nose so he could get some milk into him, as we realised at that point he hadn’t eaten anything the whole day. Once he had his tube fitted, we just cuddled him, waiting for the results. A doctor came back not too long later, and said they weren't expecting meningitis, but the results had surprised them and it was confirmed.

“Taylor stayed in the children's oncology ward in segregation for two weeks, and was discharged later in good health. Six months later he had to have a hearing test to check everything was okay (which it was). Both the boys were treated for bacterial meningitis, which is more serious than the viral strain of the disease.

Signs were so small

“For both of our children, the signs were so small, but coupled with our gut feeling led us to getting them treatment quickly. You can't always rely on a gut feeling, but you can look for the below signs and symptoms to try and spot this illness early: Fever, headache, vomiting, muscle pain, fever with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, difficult to wake, confusion, irritability, pale blotchy skin, red spots or a red rash (doesn't disappear when you press it with a glass), stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and seizures.

“For us, the early signs were literally just the pale blotchy skin, with cold hands and feet, irritability, drowsiness, and the fever.

Dublin Marathon

“So, to help raise awareness of meningitis and raise money for a fantastic charity who help others who have had to deal with the after-effects of meningitis - I have roped in three colleagues at Barclaycard where I work to run the Dublin Marathon on 30 October this year. They are Edd Micklem, Rob Tuckwell (the boss) and Simon Kelly. We wouldn't consider ourselves to be athletic, far from it, and try to do as little exercise as possible. This is going to be a real challenge for all of us! I will be sharing my progress through Facebook with links to my training on Strava so you can feel my pain!”

Matt's family story - bacterial meningitis case study