Meningitis in your words

George Holdback's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Toddler 1-3
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Scarring - skin damage
George Holdback

It was 13th July 2011 and our happy, fun loving son George was coming up to his second birthday. I was working that day so George was with our childminder, as usual. She rang me about mid-afternoon to say George had a high temperature, was off his food and generally not his usual boisterous self.

When I picked him up he was fast asleep in her arms which was completely out of character - he was usually running round in circles! He looked pale and grey despite being very hot and was lethargic and sleepy. He also had three tiny, pin prick dots on his back, so small you could easily have missed them. It didn’t look like the typical bruise of the meningitis rash so I thought perhaps he was coming down with chicken pox or a virus.

"I held him in my arms in the car, he was floppy and moaning, and I remember feeling terrified because I knew something was dreadfully, dreadfully wrong."

When we got home he was moaning and sleepy so I gave him more calpol, put him straight to bed but kept an eye on him until we went to bed at about 9pm. Although George was sleeping soundly something didn’t feel quite right so I set an alarm at 11pm and another at 1am to check him, something I have never done before but which I now know saved his life.

I checked the spots at 11pm, they still looked like pin pricks, but at 1am when I switched on the light to look at him the spots had changed to a bruised rash – the typical meningitis/septicaemia rash - and had spread onto his legs.

I immediately called the out-of-hours doctor but as I was on the phone I panicked, hung up and we bundled him into the car and rushed straight to A&E. I held him in my arms in the car, he was floppy and moaning, and I remember feeling terrified because I knew something was dreadfully, dreadfully wrong.

At A&E they straight away suspected Meningitis B and Septicaemia so gave him antibiotics immediately. Suddenly the room was full of people setting up drips and we were told George would need to be transferred to St Mary’s PICU for specialist care. We were worried sick but George was still conscious, and even asking for ‘little snacks’ (he loves his food!) so we had no idea how serious his condition was.

"Remarkably, and against the odds, George started responding to treatment"

At St Mary’s the doctors prepared us for the worst. Not long after being put on a ventilator he suffered the first of three cardiac arrests. It was a huge shock and we were distraught. To our horror as the day went on it became clear that his chances were increasingly slim. We were told to take it hour by hour. Everything had happened so quickly it just didn’t seem real. Suddenly we were faced with the reality that he might not make it.
George was attached to countless drips, had two blood transfusions, and his body became very puffed up from all the drugs and fluid. Patches of skin on his leg had turned completely black from the septicaemia and we wondered if he would lose it. It was heartbreaking to see our boisterous little boy lying unconscious fighting for his life.

Remarkably, and against the odds, George started responding to treatment. He spent a week at St Mary’s PICU where he received outstanding care from expert doctors and nurses. We will be forever grateful to them for saving his life. The consultant told us later that George had been so poorly on admission they only gave him a twenty percent chance of survival. It feels like a miracle every day when I remember how close we came to losing him.  When he finally regained consciousness it was just wonderful to hear him croak ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’.

George spent another week back at our local hospital and then began his road to recovery at home. There were many scary moments – his vision was temporarily affected, although thankfully it has now completely recovered, and he has seen an army of physiotherapists, nurses and doctors to get him back on his feet.

The Meningitis Research Foundation has been a fantastic support to our family, particularly as we had so many unanswered questions about what to expect with his recovery. George is now four and has just started school, a bright and happy little boy. We feel like the luckiest family on earth but not a day goes by when I don’t think about how different it might have been.

Emily Furniss
September 2013

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