Meningitis in your words

Kassius Jos Whitemore-Smith's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Toddler 1-3
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Full recovery
Kassius Jos Whitemore-Smith

Kassius was two years and three months old when he contracted meningococcal septicaemia on 29th December 2010. We had all been suffering from flu for the previous two weeks, but Kassius and his brother Sam had seemed to have escaped this so far.

Kassius appeared to be fine on the morning of 29th December and in the afternoon went out for a few hours with his dad. He returned home about 5pm with what appeared to be flu-like symptoms. His eyes were red and watery like his sinuses were blocked, he had a runny nose and a temperature. We immediately thought that he was coming down with the flu. This worried me as our own flu symptoms had been particularly bad and I wondered how his little body would cope with what was about to come. Little did I know at that point it would be a whole lot worse than originally anticipated.

Kassius’ dad decided to give him a bath in the hope this would make him feel a little better. When he brought Kassius downstairs he showed me two little pin-prick spots on his shoulder and trunk. At first they looked like little bites and disappeared when we applied the tumbler-test. We continued to keep a close eye on Kassius and on the spots and quite quickly his condition deteriorated, although for a while he would still try and play. He began vomiting and would then try and settle.

"I remembered all the horror stories I had read or heard about this disease"

I didn’t feel comfortable taking him to bed and thought it would be better to lie on the sofa with him with a gentle light on so I could keep a close eye on him. His breathing became more rapid and he was still vomiting. On checking the original spots we noticed that they had got bigger and had changed colour, looking more purple than red. I think I knew at this point that this was meningococcal septicaemia, something I had always been quite aware of, always dreaded and something that I never thought could happen to my child.

Just before midnight we decided to take Kassius to A&E. I was panicking inside but trying to stay strong and positive for my son. Luckily A&E was not too busy that night but our wait to see the nurse seemed to take forever. When we finally saw the nurse and she saw the spots and heard about the other symptoms she called the consultant paediatrician straight away. Again it seemed to take forever for the consultant to arrive. My panic was escalating. He was treated with antibiotics for meningococcal septicaemia straight away, prior to tests, and put onto a fluid drip as he was becoming dehydrated.

I felt from this point on that everything was taken from my hands, there was nothing I could do apart from hope and pray that we had caught this in time and that the antibiotics would work. The nurse had also noticed more spots at this stage, some on his back and one on his foot and knee.

Kassius was admitted onto the children’s ward and we were given an isolation room. The next four days were spent by his bedside just being there for him and comforting him as much as we could, intermittent with blood being taken from his little veins for more tests. I am not a religious person at all but I prayed constantly within those first few days. Luckily once the antibiotics and painkillers had kicked in he was able to get some restful sleep and this certainly aided his recovery.

I remembered all the horror stories I had read or heard about this disease and also about a little boy who had gone to nursery with my eldest son and who unfortunately never recovered from meningococcal septicaemia. Luckily, according to the doctors, we had caught it early and they reassured us that although Kassius was very poorly, he was in the right place and they were doing all they could.

After day four Kassius woke up from a very long sleep, rolled over and pronounced ‘Oh dear!’. True to character he was eager to get up and play but he got tired very quickly and would need to rest again. From this day on he continued to make good progress and we concentrated on getting him to take fluids himself and to try and eat if possible. He was still a very poorly boy but we felt so lucky and happy on the first day that he smiled and laughed again.

On day seven we were told that he could go home but we would need to make sure he had plenty of rest, as well as trying to get back to some normality and do the things we would usually do. Kassius appeared from this terrible trauma apparently unscathed apart from a few tissue scars where his worst spots had been. I still cannot believe to this day how lucky we have been and how our story could have been so different.

I became a member of the MRF as I wanted to be able to contribute in any way that I could in trying to eliminate this horrible disease and I also wanted to learn more about it and why it affects people in such an aggressive way. I attended the MRF event at Sheffield University Medical School in July 2011 to hear about Professor Robert Read’s research surrounding meningococcal disease and to also meet other people who had been affected by the disease. The event was extremely interesting and provided an opportunity to ask Professor Read questions about meningococcal disease which perhaps hadn’t been answered in hospital because of a lack of expert knowledge. It was also a real pleasure to meet and talk to the research term, MRF staff and members who are working so hard to fight this disease.

Rachel Whitemore
August 2011