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Poppy F's story

12th November 2018

When three-year-old Poppy first fell ill her mother Emma didn’t suspect meningitis because there was no rash

Poppy F's story

Emma, from Hoo in Kent, tells the story of what happened next.

“It’s every parent's worst nightmare. Looking back, we are so relieved that Poppy has come out of it so well but it’s also heart-breaking seeing the poor families that aren’t so lucky. We want to share our experience to help people to look out for the right signs.

“I was always under the impression that with meningitis there’s a rash. People say about rolling the glass over it. In Poppy’s case this rash didn’t appear until she had been in hospital for a few hours and all the medical professionals told us she would not have survived if we had waited at home for this rash.

“She had been to pre-school that day and came home tired, so we had some cuddles on the sofa. Then she was sick and I thought she had caught a bug from pre-school. She went to bed about 6:30pm but woke up again about 8pm. Luckily, I put her in our bed and stayed with her upstairs.

“Over the next hour she was really drowsy and kept shaking. I remember ringing 111 to ask for advice. They were asking so many questions and she just seemed to be getting worse so I put the phone down and called an ambulance. She wasn’t breathing right - I didn’t know what was wrong but we just knew she wasn’t okay. She was saying weird things; I remember she started counting but she was really shouting, and that’s when she was hallucinating.

They needed to get her to hospital

“The ambulance arrived and they couldn’t get blood from her. We didn’t realise how serious it was at this stage, but they said they needed to get her to hospital. We have since learnt they couldn’t get her blood because the valves in her veins were shutting down where she was so poorly. We also have a 6-year-old son and he woke up scared whilst the ambulance was there. My parents came and got him.

“We arrived at our local A&E and they really looked after her. They gave her some really strong antibiotics quite early on - they didn’t know what she had, but they said they would cover a range of things. I remember them saying she might need to go to a London hospital, but we didn’t understand. We still didn’t know at this stage what was wrong with her. As they were looking after her, spots started appearing on her chest. This confirmed to the doctors and they arranged for an intensive care ambulance to come and collect us to take her to the Evelina Children’s Hospital.

“They arrived so quickly, but she really wasn’t doing very well. The London team put her in intensive care because she was so poorly. It felt like it took a long time as we waited outside for them to get her stable. The next time we saw our baby she was covered in tubes and wasn’t breathing on her own. We were waiting for blood tests, but the doctors were confident it was meningitis.

Never been so scared in my life

“I went with her in the ambulance to the Evelina. They had the blue lights on all the way and although it was quick to get to London, it felt like forever. They had to pull over to up some of the drugs - I’ve never been so scared in my life.

“I remember arriving at the hospital and the paediatric intensive care unit rushed her up. There were about 15 doctors and nurses waiting in an area for her, all I could do was sit and wait beside them. I didn’t want to ask questions, I didn’t want to distract them from helping my daughter. It took an hour, but they managed to get her stable again.

“By this point, my husband had arrived and some doctors came and spoken to us. They explained she had meningitis and that the next 24 hours would be critical. I couldn’t cope! What was I meant to do? This couldn’t be happening to us to our family.

“Later that day they told us it was meningococcal and that she had septicaemia as well. In my head one of those illnesses was life threatening - how could she have two? We just sat next to her as there wasn’t an update from the doctors. They came and saw her regularly and she had her own nurse, but no-one could tell us she was going to be ok. I was desperate to know more but they just kept telling us we won’t know more until it’s been 24 hours.

She wasn’t completely out of danger

“Eventually the 24 hours had passed and so they came and spoke to us and explained that she hadn’t got worse. This was really positive, but she wasn’t completely out of danger. They were keeping an eye on where the spots were spreading as, if they got to the hands and feet, they may have to amputate.

“The nightmare was just ongoing but then they spoke to us about brain damage and loss of hearing. We just couldn’t take it all in. In this time, my son was an hour away at my mum and dad's. They were sending him to school and trying to act as normal as possible. On the second day, the school rang me; he had been sick at school. I broke down and got my mum to take him straight to A&E - that was how it started with Poppy and I couldn’t have my other child in this situation as well!

“Luckily he was fine. We hadn’t told him how poorly his sister was but he knew that something wasn’t right. He had never been away from us for longer than a night and all of a sudden he had moved into his grandparents, so he was obviously unsettled.

Positive news

“After nearly three days, we got the really positive news that she was doing well and that they would slowly start reducing the drugs going into her body and get her breathing on her own again. I can’t even put into words how happy, relieved, and overwhelmed we felt. The nurses and doctors we had were honestly the most amazing people in this world!

“They got her out of intensive care and up onto the ward - she was still in a high dependency unit, but she was breathing on her own and she was out of serious danger. We spent only a day there, then a week on the normal ward. We were so thankful she was on the mend, although it took her a bit of time. I remember the first time she wanted to get out of bed and walk, it was like watching a little old lady; she couldn’t do it on her own. It was hard seeing her struggle, but we were so thankful that she was alive and could walk that we were happy to help her as much as she needed.

“As Poppy got better, she knew when injections or blood tests would happen. This meant that she would get herself hysterical so that it took four of us to pin her down for her antibiotic injections every day. She would say, “Mummy don’t let them hurt me”, which was heart-breaking, but we knew she had to finish the course even if she couldn’t understand this.

She recovered so well

“A week after being home, she was riding her bike and running around and was back to her princess self. Nobody would believe what she had been through just two weeks previously, she recovered so well and so quickly. We are so thankful to everyone involved in her care. We rang Meningitis Now when she in hospital and we didn’t understand what meningococcal was, and they gave us advice and information. Just speaking to someone outside of the hospital was helpful, it felt like you had more time to explain it. The doctors do a great job, but we didn’t want to waste their time and I felt like I kept asking them the same questions. We also found a really helpful informative leaflet on your website. All the research that has previously been done is the reason the doctors knew the best way to treat Poppy. She couldn’t have received better care.

“Luckily we have had no visible lasting damage. My daughter is scared of hospitals and doctors, but as she gets older she will understand they did a fantastic job. Me and my husband are obviously affected - I’m emotional and we are both just very thankful. It really has given us a completely new outlook on life' little things don’t matter just our family and friends and our health.

“This has not only affected us but our family and friends. It’s a wake-up call to everyone that this can happen to anybody. My best friend has just got a place in the London Marathon for Meningitis Now and I wanted to share this story to help raise awareness and so that people can see how donating to this charity can keep the research and support on going!”