Initially diagnosed as a viral infection at no point did Olivia develop a rash, but a lumbar puncture confirmed her meningococcal meningitis.
Despite after-effects she’s made a strong recovery, as mum Emma recounts.
“Olivia was her usual wonderful, full of life self the day before she became seriously unwell. The next morning she got out of bed, stood up and vomited. She was still insisting she went to her music group but we told her she would have to stay home as she had been sick. She was then sick again and again.
“I took her that morning to see a GP as she had begun vomiting yellow bile every few minutes and was severely retching. The GP sent us home stating it was 'viral gastroenteritis' and advised us to push fluids. He prescribed a paracetamol suppository. I took Olivia home.
“However, her condition continued to deteriorate. She refused food but was still accepting small sips of fluids. Later that evening and during the night she began jerking and twitching for seconds every hour or so. She vomited all the fluids she took.
“I held her that night, feeling bewildered but thinking it was, as the GP had said, a 'viral infection'. The next morning, Olivia looked like she was drifting in and out of consciousness. She was unresponsive and difficult to wake. I telephoned the on call doctor and following that call, my husband and I took Olivia to A&E, where two doctors treated her low blood sugar levels and then diagnosed 'delirium associated with high fever'.
“Thankfully, they did send her onto the paediatric ward. She was seen by a doctor who started her on intravenous (IV) fluids and IV ceftriaxone. She had bloods drawn and a lumbar puncture, which took four attempts. The medical team would not let me or her dad in the room for this procedure, which in hindsight I am pleased about as apparently it took four members of staff to hold our baby down!
“We were put in our own room on the ward in isolation and me, my husband and the doctors and nurses who had initially come into contact with Olivia had to take antibiotics. Olivia was unresponsive and slept for days. We could not always hold her in our arms as she apparently ached with her little body being so sensitive. She had to be sedated on several occasions as she was so agitated at times.
Felt utter helplessness
“We were told the first 24-48 hours were critical. My family flew over to us from the UK. We felt utter helplessness. We contemplated the worst case scenario but then our family reminded us that we must believe in our daughter's strength and her fight to get better which we tried so hard to do. We decided that only positivity was to be around her at this time. We prayed. We didn't know what else to do.
“Four days later she began to make attempts to play! Her face was all puffy and swollen and her eyelids would barely open, but she wanted to be out of bed and to play! She was very weak and could not weight bear or sit up unaided.
“The paediatrician tried to get her to walk the following day but she couldn't. This broke our hearts as she had been running the week before. The next day, she could weight bear but was unstable and losing her balance, toppling backwards. However, hour by hour, she slowly regained her strength.
Responded so well to the antibiotics
“She responded so well to the antibiotics and everyone was so surprised at her recovery. Quite remarkably, it continues. Olivia had physiotherapy post discharge which further strengthened her legs and balance.
“It was only at the routine hearing test post admission that we realised there was a problem. Since her discharge, Olivia has been assessed several times by audiologists. She was also heavily sedated whilst back in hospital for an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test to take place. The results, though inconclusive indicated that her level of hearing loss was mild to moderate. She continues to undergo further audiology tests to confirm the exact level and nature of her hearing impairment.
“As a family, we have learnt that great strength can be derived from the love and genuine kindness of others during such frightening and overwhelming times and we are grateful to our friends and family who all gave their prayers and thoughts to Olivia as she fought to live.
“We want to emphasise to others how quickly we now know meningitis can damage and kill. Olivia did not, at any point, develop a rash and so we want to encourage others to follow their gut instinct when something does not feel right, which it did not with Olivia. Had we waited for a rash to appear, she is unlikely to have been still with us.
Never be too cautious
“We want other families to question medics and never be too cautious when it comes to the life and health of their child. We want to help raise awareness of the array of signs and symptoms of this awful infection so that other families and medics are informed and additionally, so that any unnecessary delays in a person receiving the correct diagnosis and prompt treatment are no longer experienced.
“We are acutely aware that our story could have had a completely different ending had Olivia not been taken to A&E the day after she first showed symptoms and without the swift action of the first paediatrician Olivia saw on the ward. We are grateful to the medical team for the care and treatment they afforded to our daughter and most importantly, we are in awe of our baby girl's resilience and her strength.
“She was so unfortunate to have contracted this infection. However, she is extremely lucky to have survived it. We are immensely proud of our Olivia.
“Meningitis Now has been a significant support during and following Olivia's illness. We have utilised them to gain further information about the illness and the post recovery period. We have ordered the various pamphlets and signs and symptoms cards and have left these everywhere we go to raise awareness. We have also learnt from Meningitis Now about the campaigns to make the vaccination programme available to all children and we have signed these petitions.”