On April 11, 2012, Louise, from Barrow-in-Furness, put nine-and-a –half-month-old Cavan to bed at 6.30pm. This was a little earlier than usual as, while he did not have a temperature, he was grouchy and she felt he seemed a little ‘off’. By 7pm, he was awake and screaming; but this was no ordinary cry.
“It was a wail; like nothing I had ever heard before, and he was breathing rapidly with short, fast gasps,” says Louise.
Louise’s husband and eldest son were out at rugby training, so she phoned her mother and asked her to come round. By the time she got there, Cavan’s temperature had reached 40 degrees. Seriously concerned, Louise had to telephone the emergency doctors three times before she was given an appointment. Each time she phoned, they kept asking her if Cavan’s condition had worsened, and whether or not he had a rash. “I told them that he wasn’t getting any better and even though I had given him Calpol and Nurofen his temperature was still very high.”
At 9pm Cavan was eventually seen by the emergency doctor. They thought he might have tonsillitis, but due to the fact his temperature would not come down they referred Louise to the local paediatric ward for the paediatrician to look over him. “That doctor thought it was tonsillitis too, but because Cavan then started being sick, he thought it was best to keep him in overnight – a decision I now think fundamentally saved his life.”
Louise remained at Cavan’s side all night. He was vomiting, shivering and crying the same high-pitched wail. She was unable to console him at all, which was highly unusual as he would normally settle for her. At around 4am, he finally settled down. The next morning at around 9am, a third doctor examined him and once again diagnosed him with tonsillitis.
“At this point he was grey, floppy and looked vacant,” says Louise. “He could barely hold his head up. It was very obvious to me that there was something seriously wrong with my baby. His skin looked mottled and had a bluish tinge. His head was bent back into a strange position, but the doctor didn’t seem concerned by any of this.”
It was then that Louise noticed two tiny pin pricks on Cavan’s stomach which did not disappear when pressed. “I mentioned these and the doctor said they were nothing to worry about and that we could go home, but I insisted they give him a blood test. They took him into a room to do the test, and by the time I followed five minutes later, they informed me that they strongly suspected meningitis and were going to start treatment straight away.”
From bad to worse
Cavan was taken to the hospital’s High Dependency Unit where he remained for 72 hours.
"During the first two days he was unresponsive; then on the third day he started to react to the sounds of our voices. He came out of the HDU on the fourth day, and that’s when a whole new nightmare began.”
By this point, tests had confirmed that Cavan was suffering with the B strain of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia (Men B). Despite this diagnosis, the doctors were pleased that he was responding extremely well to the treatment. “They told us we would be allowed home within a week.”
However, when Cavan continued to vomit violently with a high spiking temperature, Louise knew something was wrong.
“They kept saying he had picked up a virus and that it was unrelated to the meningitis. They left him for five days with no medication while they waited for him to ‘get over’ this ‘virus’.”
On the fifth day, Louise knew, without doubt, that Cavan was seriously ill. He deteriorated rapidly and Louise once again insisted on a blood test and they also did a lumbar puncture. Louise says “I since found out that he should have been having daily blood tests anyway.”
Doctors told Louise that Cavan needed an MRI scan, but they did not have the facilities to be able to scan a baby, so he was moved to Newcastle Victoria hospital and given the scan under general anaesthetic.
“The results concluded that there were multiple fluid collections all over his little brain. It was awful. We stayed there for two weeks and we were finally allowed home on 10 May. He seems to be doing well now, we are waiting on a hearing test and development assessment but we are just so grateful to have him with us.”
Talking of her experience with Meningitis Now, Louisa says “Well what can I say? I don’t even know where to begin. The support we received was invaluable at a time where we were confused and felt very alone. Even the best doctors and nurses could not answer our questions really; I don’t think they wanted to commit themselves. Meningitis Now was there to offer support and the answers we so desperately needed. My eldest son, who is only 12, did the Junior Great North Run and raised around £1,800 for them last September. As a family we are all so grateful.”