Ella's story

11th November 2014

Lucie Dunbar was overjoyed when she gave birth to daughter Ella. But her little one fell ill with Group B streptococcal meningitis shortly after coming home. Here Lucie tells Ella's story

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Beautiful daughter

On Friday 27th November 2009, my life was complete - I had just given birth to my second beautiful daughter. Ella arrived quickly once we had reached the hospital and everything seemed well, so a few hours later we were sent home to meet the family. I walked into my mum's house a very proud mummy and everyone was delighted to meet the new addition, especially Mia, who was then two and a half. She had been desperate for a little baby sister.

The first few days passed in a haze like with any new little one. With constant feeding, sleep deprivation and lots of visitors, we muddled through and loved being all together. That's why it was an awful shock when Simon went back to work after two weeks. At the time he did shifts, 12-hour days four days on, four days off. I planned things to do while he was out to keep Mia busy and to prove I could get out of the house with two children.

Something wasn't right

It was his second day back, Ella was 17 days old, and I went to have my haircut which made me feel refreshed. We headed off to my friend Katy's house, she also has two children, one two weeks older than Mia and one who arrived just a couple of days before Ella. Shortly after we arrived I settled down to give Ella her bottle. She winded and I kept her in my arms while I had a cup of tea and a chat, the older girls playing nicely together. After a couple of hours I realised that Simon would shortly be home and he'd be anxious to see the children and I wanted to get Mia back for her tea so we left. During that journey home Ella was making some strange noises. I have come to learn that these were typical grunts associated with meningitis. It seemed that Mia picked up on Ella's discomfort whilst we were in the car and she comforted her baby sister by saying 'don't worry Ella, we'll be home soon'.

I had forgotten that I'd invited another friend over when she finished work. She arrived and we chatted whilst I comforted Ella who seemed a bit uneasy but as she'd had a bad night the previous evening I didn't think too much about it. It wasn't until my friend had gone and my baby refused her next bottle that alarm bells started ringing.

Calling the doctor

Simon had been to Tesco to get something for our dinner and I expressed my concern to him when he got back. He told me not to worry but could see that I was. He supported my decision to call my mum. She told me to follow my instincts and phone the doctors. But the doctors were shut so I contacted NHS direct. They didn't take long to get back to me, they heard my concern and told me to get down to the walk in centre at my local hospital when convenient. I called my parents and my dad headed over to sit with Mia who had been tucked up in bed during this chaos after giving her sister a beautiful kiss and saying 'I love you'. We got to the hospital and were told to wait.

When eventually Ella was assessed, everything happened at lightning speed. It was obvious that the doctors and other healthcare professionals were all extremely worried about our baby daughter. With an hour of being at East Surrey hospital we were in the resuscitation room and the crash team was being called in. Ella had been starved of oxygen and we would later find out that she was extremely brain damaged.

Transferred to the children's hospital

A blue light transfer to the Evelina Children's Hospital which is part of St Thomas' in London was arranged and we travelled through the night. Simon's cries of 'don't let my baby die' from the 'resus' room ran through me, I was desperate and frightened. My mum and sister had been to the hospital to support us but we had to make this journey on our own.

Once we arrived at the specialist children's hospital we were told to rest whilst they settled Ella in the intensive care department. We sat in the relative's room completely helpless. I dozed at one point and woke up suddenly before realising I hadn't just had a terrible nightmare, but was living one.

I called some of our closest friends to explain where we were. By the time we were allowed to see Ella, my friend Jo had arrived to support us. As only two people were able to visit the unit at a time, she and I went and sat at Ella's bedside whilst Simon sat in the relative's room talking to other parents who were facing their own nightmares. He was told how fantastic the staff were. We both knew we had to stay positive.

Jo went off to work and Simon and I sat with our little girl. Eventually the doctor did his rounds. All I remember is that he kept stressing how poorly baby Ella was - it wasn't what I wanted to hear but it was the reality. At about midday we were told that the next step was a brain scan. By then I realised what they feared. We sat and waited.

The worst news

After what seemed like forever, Ella was back with a number of staff. They all gathered around and shut the curtain. Tears filled my eyes and I was certain we were about to receive bad news. We were told that our darling daughter was trying to die - she 'flat lined' again when they'd moved her. We were told how bad the scan had been and that there was little chance of any recovery. We had to make a decision. I just wanted to cuddle my baby again. Not even twenty four hours had passed since her first symptoms and yet so much had changed. We wanted Ella to fall asleep peacefully one last time. So, the doctors gave us a private room on the intensive care ward, where we called all our families and waited for them to arrive. With just my parents and sister, Simon's mum and brother and our good friends Jo and Nick we said a prayer for our little girl and took her off of the machines that had been keeping her alive. I cuddled her close while she slowly slipped away.

When we spoke to the doctors about her cause of death it suddenly became clear - she had contracted Group B Strep infection and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I could have been tested whilst pregnant to determine whether or not I was carrying the bacteria. The doctors told me not to think about that at the time but I couldn't help it - I wanted to take a bit of responsibility, I blamed myself.

Nothing could have prepared us for the terrible events that day. Having to go home with an empty car seat and tell Mia that her baby sister will never be with us again was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Mia kept asking if I'd left Ella in the car.

Saying goodbye

At Ella's funeral on Christmas Eve the father of one of my close school friends told me to keep my chin up and that time was a good healer. I have never felt so angry. My grief was still very raw. Having and losing Ella changed us all individually and it nearly tore my relationship with Simon apart as we dealt with things in very different ways. I find comfort in being able to tell my story and in hearing that by knowing about Ella my friends and friends of friends have had the necessary treatment in labour to prevent their babies becoming poorly too. Approximately one in three women carry the bacteria and many are never aware of it.

Simon, Mia and I have since been blessed with another little girl, Olivia. Olivia would not be here if Ella had survived. Having a baby again was a huge emotional roller-coaster for us and continues to be so but we know more than ever what a gift our children are.

Lucie added: "If you have read Ella's story whilst pregnant, please visit www.gbss.org.uk and investigate getting the private and reliable test to see if you are a carrier, I wish someone had told me too! It costs £30 but it could ultimately save your baby's life... I used the Doctors Laboratory for my test when I had Olivia and it arrived very quickly and was processed really promptly – you can even get the results by text."

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