What started as an unsettled night ended eight hours later with her baby on a ventilator struggling for survival. Luckily, as Southampton-based Leonie recounts here, George was a fighter.
“I’m not sharing this for likes, attention or sympathy. I’m sharing this because if it helps raise awareness to just one parent, then that’s one child’s life that could be saved.
“What do you think of when someone says meningitis? A rash that doesn’t go away when you press it with a glass? A reaction to light? Something you know about but that only happens to other people - not to you or anyone you know?
“A week after he was due, my beautiful 10lb baby boy entered the world and our family was complete. Straight away we were in love with our George. His big brothers were smitten and I couldn’t have been prouder. I could never have imagined that a short 16 days later my world would be turned upside down.
“It all started on a very normal night. At 2am George woke for a feed as normal, he drank his bottle - as normal. He burped three times - as normal, and I changed him and he fell asleep up on my shoulder - as normal!
“I finished watching the episode of Road Wars (our night feed favourite) then went to bed. I laid George in his Moses basket and he cried, so I attempted to settle him - but he wasn’t happy. I took him back into the living room so we didn’t wake his daddy or brother.
“Two hours of crying. My content, blue eyed boy would usually only cry when he thought he was starving three hours after his last bottle. I assumed he had wind, a tummy ache or just wanted a cuddle! Because at 16 days old, that’s what babies do. In the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t normal for George to be this upset. But he was only crying and I didn’t want to be seen as ‘that mum’ who takes her child to a health professional for crying.
“Almost two hours later, I took him into the bedroom for a cuddle with daddy - who usually had that magic touch. I took 10 minutes out to sterilise the bottles so they didn’t need doing first thing and we could have a nice lay in.
Grunting with every breath
“I got back into bed and George had stopped crying but was unsettled and grunted with every breath. We left him in our bed between us because he was comfy. He had been constipated and I assumed that his tummy hurt, that he was too tired to cry and was still in some pain and that was causing the grunting.
“At 6.30am, four hours after having a normal feed, daddy went to work and I got up to make a bottle thinking he would start crying for it soon. I came back in and changed him which didn’t wake him as it usually would. I assumed he was still tired from the crying. I attempted to give him his bottle and he wasn’t interested. Very un-George like! He felt warm so I left him in his vest and took his temperature. 39.2. I knew he was poorly.
“I called 111 to ask for advice; they suggested he saw a doctor within two hours. It was 7.30am by now so I woke my eldest son and told him to get dressed. I ran around and threw a bottle and some milk in the baby bag and with my phone in hand at 8am, I managed to get an appointment at the nearest GP straight away.
“He looked George over and told us he wanted us to take George to Southampton General for some tests.
“By 11am, eight hours after his symptoms started, my 16 day old baby boy was on a ventilator and had been put to sleep to fight meningitis for his life! Meningitis? That thing you know of, but that doesn’t happen to anyone you know, had happened! It was really happening.
“We walked into the hospital and were greeted by four doctors. They were waiting for George and as soon as we arrived they took him straight through. They stripped him and started doing all sorts of tests. I felt sick, I stood back with tears in my eyes watching my partner hold his hand. I knew something was wrong. Not long after, the doctor said she wanted to do a lumbar puncture. She said it wasn’t nice to see and asked us to wait in the relative’s room. Meningitis didn’t cross my mind.
“We waited for what felt like a lifetime but was actually no longer than 10 minutes. We were allowed back in and they told us the lumbar puncture wasn’t clear as they expected and that it was being tested. She said she’d called a doctor from intensive care as he needed 1:1 care. Even still I didn’t think of meningitis because he didn’t have a rash, because he was just warm, unhappy and sleepy!
“A consultant from intensive care came in and had a very quick look over George. Then he stood in front of us and told us he thought our son had meningitis, and that he was taking him to intensive care to be put on to a ventilator. Those words will stay with me for the rest of my life. In that moment, time stopped. The room then filled with people to escort him down two floors. We were shown to another waiting room where we sat, we waited, and we cried.
“I couldn’t process what he was saying, what was going on. He was fine just hours before! Meningitis doesn’t happen to people like me. It was just one of those things you hear about. My heart broke, it physically hurt.
He fought so hard
“George was ventilated and put to sleep so his brain could rest and his body could fight. He fought, he fought so hard! He came off the ventilator two days later and out of intensive care five days later. The incredible people from Southampton General Hospital PICU saved my boy's life and held us together at the same time.
“They answered our hundreds of questions, they cared for our son like he was their own, they spoke to us about normal things, they made sure we slept, ate and drank. They were amazing!
“We spent three weeks in hospital so George could have antibiotics. We had a few bumps in the road when he picked up another infection and needed a new PICC line. But the nurses, doctors and consultants were faultless.
“It is far from over for both George and for us. We are uncertain what the future holds for George and what lasting damage has been done. We’ve been told his brain suffered some damage as the infection starved his brain from oxygen. We’ve also had a hearing test and his right ear has been affected by the meningitis. But he’s a fighter, he’s strong and he really is amazing.
“As a family we will take what comes our way and deal with it together. My boy is here and to us, that’s all we could wish for!”