Meningitis in your words

Georgia Grace Richardson's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Toddler 1-3
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
Georgia Grace Richardson
It was a sunny Bank Holiday Monday in May 2008, my two children and myself had enjoyed a lovely family BBQ at my parents. My husband couldn't join us, he was serving with the army in Germany. 

Georgia, aged two years, had a fantastic day running around and she showed no signs of being ill. We'd gone home and she'd gone to bed as normal. 

About 10pm that night she woke vomiting. I thought nothing of it... maybe she'd eaten something a little under-cooked? About an hour later she vomited again and throughout the night vomited many times. I noticed she was breathing rapidly but still never thought anything of it. I didn't know the signs of meningitis... if I had I would have got medical help sooner. 

At 5.15am I tried to wake Georgia but she was very difficult to wake, drifting in and out of (what I now know) consciousness - I thought she was just very tired after a disturbed night.

"The nurse recorded Georgia's temperature at 40 degrees. Her condition was rapidly deteriorating. The nurse gave Georgia fluid orally because she was dehydrating."

I started to take her clothes off. This is when I started to worry - she was still extremely sleepy and floppy. She then emptied her bowels on my knee. I noticed just a small purple pinprick on her tummy. I pressed on it but it didn't disappear. 

I'd seen Dr Hilary on GMTV talking about this rash and I immediately thought of meningitis. I rang NHS Direct thinking I was over-reacting but they put me through to 999, who immediately sent an ambulance, which arrived with two medical technicians on board. We found out had there been a paramedic they could and would have administered antibiotics.

With the rash spreading before our eyes they decided to take us to a minor injuries unit (the closest hospital). The nurse recorded Georgia's temperature at 40 degrees. Her condition was rapidly deteriorating. The nurse gave Georgia fluid orally because she was dehydrating. 

We waited about - 15 minutes for the doctor to come, only to be told I was over-reacting and should take her home and give her Calpol. I asked why the rash didn't disappear. He said many childhood rashes don't, for example chicken pox. I knew it was not chickenpox and demanded another opinion, although part of me was thinking he was right; things like this don't happen to ordinary people like us. 

"I remember carrying my gorgeous two-year-old in my arms like a baby. She was floppy and sleeping (unconscious). I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. I never thought my baby would die."

Another 999 ambulance was called to take us to A&E but because we were already at a hospital Georgia wasn't a priority and we were left waiting for another 45 minutes. I couldn't believe this was happening to my beautiful girl. Carl, my husband, was unaware of everything so I called him; I told him not to panic because the doctor had said it was nothing. He didn't really know how serious meningitis was so he just got on with his morning at work. 

We arrived at Scunthorpe General about 7.45am. I remember carrying my gorgeous two-year-old in my arms like a baby. She was floppy and sleeping (unconscious). I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. I never thought my baby would die. Within minutes of the doctors arriving Georgia had cannulas put into her and fluid injected as fast as possible. It was all a bit manic, I was crying and cradling my baby girl who was dying in my arms. 

Georgia was given a third of her body weight in fluid (the doctor later told me that was the most fluid he had given a child). She was also given antibiotics at this time.... two hours after we'd arrived at the first hospital. Georgia was put into an induced coma and on a life support machine. I wasn't allowed to be with her for that. 

A specialist team from Sheffield Children's Hospital came to collect Georgia. By now mum had called Carl and his parents to tell them what was happening. Carl started trying to get home from Germany.
We were allowed to see Georgia before she got in the ambulance. She was very swollen (because of all the fluid) and her face was completely purple. Everyone was crying. We were told to say goodbye (we later found out they didn't think she'd make the 30 minute journey). I wasn't allowed in the ambulance because there wasn't room. I followed in an ambulance car - all alone in the back seat was the most terrifying time of my life. I was told to expect the worst, I didn't know if my baby girl would ever wake up. I didn't know if my husband would make it home, or even if he was able to come home. I worried how her four-year-old brother would react to the terrible news. I even thought about what we'd say to him if she didn't make it. 
When I arrived at Sheffield, Georgia was in PICU and I wasn't allowed to see her for about an hour. When I finally got to see her, her tiny body was covered in tubes. She had lines into most veins and was being given nine different drugs - some to keep her alive and some to fight the meningitis. 

At 8pm Carl arrived at the hospital. Georgia stayed in this condition for three days, and the doctors couldn't tell if she would live or what quality of life she'd have if she did.

"I longed to hold my brave little princess."

I think it was day two when Georgia's kidneys began to fail. She was put on a dialysis machine. Although the machine was removing the deadly toxins it was also filtering out her medication which was keeping her alive and pain-free. Her kidneys recovered enough that she came off the machine after seven days. 

Around day three Georgia started breathing on her own without the aid of the life support machine. Around day five she started to have awake periods; although she couldn't open her eyes she would fidget in her cot and move her arms around. This was a fantastic breakthrough. The doctors began to speak more positively now. 

Although this was very good news Georgia's fingers and toes were turning black. The nurses tried to keep the circulation going but with no luck. It was looking more doubtful that she would come through this with all her fingers and toes. She also had a very large lesion on her right thigh. 

For all the time Georgia spent in PICU we were unable to pick her up for a cuddle. Only once did we try but it was far too uncomfortable for her. I longed to hold my brave little princess. 

After 14 days in PICU Georgia was weaned off most of her medication and taken to HDU. Her morphine was also being weaned which caused her cramp pains. Had my princess not been through enough? After three days in HDU Georgia was taken to a normal ward. All the tubes and monitors were gone (except the feeding tube) and she was out of one-to-one care. On the ward is where I had my first real cuddle. 
Georgia was still very fragile and unable to do anything for herself. The doctors decided to leave her fingers and toes to drop off. They were also concerned about the wound on her leg and one on the back of her head. 

Georgia continued to regain her strength and she got better and better. Three weeks after going to the ward we were allowed to take her home. The best day of our lives! 
Georgia did have to return to the hospital a few months later because her fingers and toes didn't separate as planned, so the wonderful doctors at Sheffield Hospital amputated them. Georgia lost all her fingers on her left hand to the first knuckle and a third all her toes on her right foot. She also had skin grafts to infected areas of the fingers and to her thigh. The septicaemia had killed lots of her tissue so she was left with a huge hole in her thigh, which is now recovering. Georgia also needed dead tissue removing from the back of her head which had left her with a scar and a 4cm bald patch, but her beautiful hair covers that. 

"They told us she was the worst case of meningococcal septicaemia they had seen where the child recovered."

Georgia has many follow up appointments, she recently had a kidney test (December 2009), and has speech and hearing tests coming up soon. Fingers crossed she continues to recover so well, the doctors say she is very lucky. They told us she was the worst case of meningococcal septicaemia they had seen where the child recovered. 

I thank God every day for our precious little angel. She is the bravest person I know. Nothing seems to bother her, she loves going back to Sheffield Hospital (which she's renamed Georgia's Hospital) to see the doctors. We'd like to thank every one who helped save our little girl, there aren't words to say how grateful we are. 

Please have a look at my beautiful daughter. She's an inspiration to us all. Thank you to everyone who's read Georgia's story x

Carrie Richardson
December 2009