Gemma’s baby daughter Isabella was not herself. She had a high-pitched wailing cry, high temperature, was off her food and drink and curled into a foetal position. A visit to the doctor was inconclusive but, as she deteriorated, Gemma took her to hospital, where eventually meningitis was diagnosed
Fortunately, Bella pulled through but meningitis left her with an acquired brain injury and deafness. Gemma, from Dursley in Gloucestershire, tells their story here for World Meningitis Day.
“It was 19 December, our first magical Christmas with our new baby girl. It was a Sunday and we had woken up to Bella not feeling herself."
“We took her to the on-call doctors in Berkeley. At that stage she had a wet nappy and although she had a temperature she did not have much else by way of symptoms. They thought it could be an ear infection but didn’t give antibiotics as it was early days. We went home."
“Several hours later I knew she was getting progressively worse. She was off her food and the nappies were decreasing. What alarmed me most was the fact that she had this cry. As a mum you get to know your baby’s cry, the one for hunger, the one for wind or nappy change or even the tired cry. This was different. This cry was like someone was wailing, kind of mourning for someone. It was a high-pitched cry and was heartbreaking to hear."
Admitted to hospital
“I called Isabella’s dad back from football as I wanted to get a second opinion. This time we went to Stroud Hospital, who very quickly wanted us admitted to the main hospital in Gloucester. Because Bella was so dehydrated they couldn’t get any blood out of her. Three attempts were made for a lumbar puncture, which as a mum was heart-breaking."
“During this time she was deteriorating considerably, to the point we were in the High Dependency Unit. It felt like a scene from Casualty was going on around my baby girl. Days rolled into days and medication to medication until, on the third day, a doctor named Gabriel (quite fitting that close to Christmas) diagnosed it as meningitis and Bella was given lifesaving medication. They said a couple more hours and she wouldn’t have been with us. We were so lucky."
“We spent a total of two weeks in hospital and thankfully Bella survived. She suffered with fitting and it was like watching an Elvis wiggle with the legs and then her arms and then her whole body - horrible to watch. She had to have sedating medication and although they wanted to move us to Bristol the journey could have been fatal. So, the brain scans were couriered to the specialist and phone calls were made."
Survived a terrible ordeal
“Thankfully she’s here today, nearing her 13th birthday. She survived a terrible ordeal with profound deafness in her left ear and an acquired brain injury that to this day is having lasting effects."
“When you leave the hospital you think the whole ordeal is over but this isn’t always the case. Thanks to the amazing family of Meningitis Now my big girl isn’t alone and feels more accepted, thanks to meeting several other children in the same situation."
“Meningitis Now has supported us through counselling, complementary therapy, home visits, Family Days, Believe and Achieve weekends and creative therapies. Bella says art therapy gives her butterflies. It has helped us come to terms with her condition and myself to deal with what has happened.”