Barney's story

28th January 2020

Rod Adlington’s son Barney was a happy, healthy three-year-old in 2005 until one morning he fell ill with a headache. He was taken to hospital and tragically he died early the next morning

Barney bacterial meningitis case study

Rod, who lives in Balsall Common in the West Midlands, told us Barney’s story.

“Barney was three and a half years old, a fun-loving scamp, always muddy, always outside and always smiling. He had an older brother, Toby, and a sister Lily. He never got to meet his youngest brother Monty.

“Barney was taken ill at 11am on a Friday morning in mid-March, complaining of a headache. Two hours later, Anna (his mother) took him to the doctor as the symptoms weren't getting any better. The doctor realised that this might be meningitis and called an ambulance and both mother and son were taken to Heartlands A&E in Birmingham for further tests and observations.

“Although a large inner-city hospital, they couldn't have been more helpful. Barney was admitted and a whole host of men and women in white coats descended upon him. He was still conscious at this stage and we were both holding his hand and consoling him, but also persuading him to stay awake and with us. Unfortunately, he slipped into unconsciousness soon after - although the medical staff reassured us he was now stable and in good care (which he was, the medical staff were simply fantastic).

“That evening, Barney was transferred to Stoke children's hospital and made comfortable in intensive care. We sat up in chairs by his bedside and eventually dozed off. At about 12.30 we were awoken by a flurry of activity around the bed and now the mood was very different. Not panic, but clearly real concern and anxiety.

Our son was dying in front of us

“After an hour, the mood with the doctor and the two nurses was very professional but somehow more distant as they were trying to explain what was happening to our son, in front of us. As a parent it didn't compute: I kept thinking it would be ok, and it wasn't until later that I realised our son was dying in front of us, there and then.

“We were sent for a brain scan with Barney, and as we entered the lift I looked back to see the doctor head in hands (he didn't know I had seen this) and then the dreadful realisation began to dawn on me. This wasn't going to have a good ending; however many scans we had, this was the end.

“I could finish there, but there are heroes in this world - and what happened next will always give a tiny crumb of comfort.

“It is a blur, but I remember arriving back down in the lift with Barney and having the awful conversation with the medical staff about what happens next.

“He was removed from life support but had already passed away.

“A young nurse appeared, she came across the room, took my wife's arm and said "Please don't worry, I will look after your son tonight, he will be safe". It wasn't until later that it transpired this was her first night back on duty after maternity leave. I have no idea how she coped, but although visibly upset she just put herself forward and did her very best to make what she could of the dreadful situation.

“We dragged ourselves into a local hotel for what was left of the night, and upon returning in the morning found Barney tucked up in bed in a side room with his teddy, looking so peaceful.

“All the medical staff were amazing, but that final act of incredible kindness will never, ever leave us.

Novel ways to raise awareness

“We found the Meningitis Trust soon after (Meningitis Now is its new name) and have worked with the charity since 2005. We started with their counselling services and then started holding large barn dances called Barney's Bash to raise money for the charity.

“We are constantly looking for novel ways to raise awareness and money for the charity and currently are blessed by a very close friend who is running the London Marathon dressed in rugby kit in order to break the world record for the fastest time.

“We are very excited about the challenge and the interest it is raising and will be forever grateful to Duncan for the time and incredible effort he is putting into this. He will smash it, and already the story is creating traction through rugby clubs. We will keep supporting and pushing the story into all areas, to raise awareness and to raise funds.”

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