Meningitis Now staff member Andy Hopkinson

Skydive for Meningitis Now after Rafe's recovery

Andy Hopkinson | 5th October 2021

Throwing yourself out of a plane is a memorable way to say thank you for your son’s recovery from meningitis. And definitely a challenge

Skydive for Meningitis Now after Rafe's recovery

But, for grateful dad Andrew, from Brackley in Northamptonshire, taking on the skydive was the right thing to do. It was his way of saying thank you for his son Rafe’s recovery and giving something back to help others affected by the disease, when he had been unable to do anything to help Rafe directly when he was poorly and in hospital. 

The father of one, who is 35 and runs his own plumbing business, was joined for the challenge at the nearby Hinton Airfield by two of Rafe's uncles, Mikey, and Eddie, and his best friend Adam. Although only Mikey was excited about the challenge, with the other three dreading it, we’re pleased to report that everybody landed safely and even secretly enjoyed the experience.

Rafe’s mum, 33-year-old hairdresser Edlene explained: “What happened to Rafe didn't just happen to Andrew, me and Rafe. We have a very close family unit and they also found this very hard not to be able to come and support me and cuddle Rafe. They felt they wanted to help support other people affected by meningitis too.

“In fact Mikey’s daughter Ava contracted viral meningitis as a baby and was in one of the same hospitals as Rafe. So he had his own emotional reasons to support both of these charities.”

Skydive for Meningitis Now after Rafe's recovery

Raised a sky-high £6,500

And the quartet’s efforts have raised a sky-high £6,500 to help fight the disease for us and the Horton and John Radcliffe Hospitals where Rafe was treated – more than doubling their original fundraising target. 

Rafe became ill on Saturday 20 June 2020. “That will be a date that forever sticks in our minds,” Edlene said. “This is the date our beautiful four-week-old baby boy Rafe got admitted to the Horton A&E, Banbury.

“The previous evening we thought something wasn't quite right. He had a temperature, which was fluctuating, and he wasn't latching on to feed properly. 

“We decided to stay up with him that night because the big knot in my stomach was telling me something very different to my 'trying to be calm' head. After hours of sitting up with Rafe sleeping on us we all managed a little doze for an hour or two and when we woke up it looked to me that Rafe’s skin had gone grey and mottled and he had a shiny film of sweat over him. 

Knot in my stomach

“At this point, with the knot in my stomach now three times the size, I called 111. They told us to get to A&E immediately. 

“During the journey Rafe went rapidly downhill; he could no longer hold onto my finger and felt very floppy. He also started to make a funny grunting noise we had never heard before.

“We ran frantically through the doors of A&E only to discover that just one of us could stay with him due to Covid. We decided it should be me as I was breastfeeding. 

“Within seconds Rafe's room was filled with people and I felt the sense of emergency in the room. Rafe was put straight on oxygen and hooked up to all sorts of machines. He had a cannula put in his head as he was too sick for them to be able to get in the veins in his arms. 

There I stayed

“Rafe had to go through all sorts of tests and scans and was hooked up to all sorts of machines. One showed his heart rate would come down when I kissed him, so there I stayed!

“We were eventually told that Rafe was very sick with sepsis and at that point we were transferred to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. 

“Once at the JR Rafe was fed through a tube as he was too weak and exhausted to be able to latch on. Not being able to feed him and have that closeness to him was tough, I felt totally useless. I can't even imagine how useless his dad felt at this point – at least I could sit by Rafe’s side and hold his hand, his dad couldn't even do that.

“The word meningitis began to be mentioned and there was talk of needing to do a lumbar puncture. I kept telling myself that they obviously didn't really think he had meningitis because they would be rushing to do his lumbar puncture. As it turned out, Rafe was too sick to have one as the platelets in his blood were far too low. 

Results were devastating

“After being in hospital for a few days, his platelets rose just enough for the lumbar puncture to happen. The results were devastating. On top of everything else, Rafe had bacterial meningitis.

“Rafe’s daddy still couldn’t be with us, so I had a very hard phone call to make to him. Saying it out loud made it all too real. Andrew was distraught. He was terrified Rafe wasn't going to pull through and he felt completely useless and didn't know what to do with himself as he couldn't be there.

“However, the positive news was we now had the information needed to get Rafe on the right antibiotics and get him better. 

“It wasn’t all plain sailing from this point though; there were lots of failed attempts to insert a long-line; there was anaesthetic; there was 21 days of antibiotics given three times a day; and there was the horrible side-effects. But when they bothered him more than the meningitis, we knew we were finally on the right track!

Skydive for Meningitis Now after Rafe's recovery

Massive amount of fight

“Luckily for us Rafe was a big strong boy with a massive amount of fight in him. He just kept pushing and pushing to get better. Day by day we had less tubes. He was now emptying his own bladder and feeding straight from me all by himself again. He also found his big strong voice letting me and the rest of the ward know he wasn't well but, my goodness, was I glad to hear that sound!

“As Rafe got better and better we were able to be transferred back to the Horton Hospital in Banbury. We had a lot of love for Rafe and kept getting told how smiley and relaxed he was and how they had been hearing about him all week and were glad to have him back with them. The consultant that was there at the very beginning came to see us and told us that Rafe had been the sickest baby he had seen in A&E but how much better he was now looking and that he was well on the road to recovery.

Thank our lucky stars every day

“Rafe has since had lots of check-ups and has smashed every appointment out of the park! We thank our lucky stars every single day that he is not only still with us but it is looking like he has no after-effects. We will have to keep a close eye on his development for a while yet but we certainly seem to have no life-changing effects from his ordeal.

“We will be forever grateful to all of the staff at the Horton Hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital for all they did to save Rafe and make him better. 

“The skydive is our way of giving back a little. Thank you to everyone who supported us as a family.”

Skydive for Meningitis Now after Rafe's recovery

And, as for Rafe now? Well, he’s running around everywhere and there’s no stopping him!

Our Fundraising Officer Sophia Lanciano said: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to Andrew, Edlene, Mikey, Eddie and Adam for taking on this challenge and raising such valuable awareness and funds – what a brilliant achievement. We rely on the energy, and bravery, of our supporters to raise the vital funds we need to carry out our lifesaving and life-changing work.

“Their efforts will make a real difference to those who are at risk from meningitis and those whose lives have been changed forever because of it.”

Skydive for Meningitis Now after Rafe's recovery