Meningitis in your words

Katelyn McGrotty's story

  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Baby 0-1
  • Relationship: Grandparent
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
Katelyn McGrotty
My granddaughter Katelyn developed meningococcal septicaemia when she was four months old.

The night before was a normal night; it was my daughter's 19th birthday, we were out for a family meal and Katelyn looked her usual happy self.  My daughter (Katelyn's mum) was starting back at work the following day, the arrangement was that I would be taking care of Katelyn.

As planned my daughter brought Katelyn to me at 7.30am on Monday 6th December 1999 and she looked fine.  I had an appointment for myself at 9.30am with the doctor. Katelyn had coughed a few times throughout the morning, so I asked the doctor to check her. She gave him a big smile, he said she was fine.  

"I could see she was getting worse - she was not moving her head normally."

I continued with my day playing and feeding Katelyn.  For some reason I felt she was not responded to things in her usual way, for example she took longer to take her bottle.  Soon I became aware she was developing a temperature.  At 2pm as planned I took Katelyn to her baby massage session. When I got there she had clearly developed a temperature and her legs appeared mottled, so I asked the health visitor, who conducted the class, to have a look at her. This she did and, after weighing Katelyn, she advised that she did not have a massage today.  I explained I had seen the doctor that morning and did she think I should go back?  The health visitor said no and that I should just give Katelyn Calpol.  At 4pm I made my way to the chemist and at this point Katelyn was making a moaning sound. I asked the pharmacist for Calpol and asked for a throat soother, explaining that I thought the baby had a sore throat.  On returning home I gave Katelyn a spoonful of both of these, and her normal bottle.  I could see she was getting worse - she was not moving her head normally.  At 6pm my daughter arrived back with Katelyn's dad to head off back to their own place.  I told them about Katelyn's day and I also told them I thought she had a headache, and advised that one of them should stay up all night and keep an eye on her.

At 7.30am the following morning I was woken by the phone and my daughter telling me Katelyn's dad had stayed up all night with her, and she had moaned throughout this time.  He woke my daughter at 5.30am telling her he could not stand it any more, so my daughter put the light on and saw Katelyn was covered in blotches. It was then she phoned me she as thought it was chicken pox.  I told her to phone the doctor straight away and if he did not come to phone me back.  

I should perhaps mention that at no time throughout the last 24 hours did I think Katelyn's life was in danger and at no time did I think meningitis.

"Katelyn spent eight days on a life support machine, all her blood was changed and all her organs were worked by machines. The nurses told us it is like a river - no-one knows where it will stop. Soon we became aware how this could end."

My daughter phoned at 9.30am through tears - she told me Katelyn was in St John's Hospital on a life support machine. The doctor had arrived quickly, injected her and bundled her into his car and into the hospital - it was lucky my daughter lived so close to the hospital.  Katelyn was to be police escorted to the Sick Kids Hospital when she was more stable.  Our nightmare was just about to start.  

I phoned my son, who lived in Edinburgh, asking him to meet his sister at the Sick Kids Hospital. None of us realised the extent of what we were up against.  The nurses could not tell us anything other than Katelyn had meningococcal septicaemia.  Katelyn spent eight days on a life support machine, all her blood was changed and all her organs were worked by machines.  The nurses told us it is like a river - no-one knows where it will stop. Soon we became aware how this could end; after three days my daughter was asked if she wanted Katelyn baptised. The shock was now upon us all as a family; I managed somehow to stay calm and answer my daughter's anguished question, "what will I do, what does this mean?" I told her and Katelyn's dad to take a walk and think about it, saying that this will only give her added strength.  They decided to have her baptised.  The following day at 2pm Katelyn was baptised - the nurses laid a baptismal gown over her tiny body.  With God on our side at 3pm amazingly Katelyn began to stabilise.  By this point most of her body was black and the open wounds appeared, but the blackness miraculously stopped just at Katelyn's ankles and at the wrists.  Each day she made small improvements as her organs began working on their own, her machines were gradually removed and on the eighth day she breathed on her own and was removed from intensive care.  The nurse asked my daughter if she had a Christmas tree, to which my daughter said no,  and the nurse said to go out and buy one as your daughter will be home for Christmas.  There are no words to describe the joy felt.

Katelyn's recovery was remarkable: she had open wounds where the blood tried to boil through her body, these were dressed daily and when she returned home it was not long before her mum could do this for her.  The doctors spoke about skin grafts, however to this day she needed none, the scars she has are a reminder to us. Katelyn is now nine and she has all her limbs and functions normally.
Katelyn had an operation on her eye a year after, as the meningitis had switched off the eye.  Another miracle as the op was a success and Katelyn has perfect vision. She wore a patch initially to train the eye before the op until last year, reducing to three hours a week and she no longer needs this.

Anyone reading our experience will know we are blessed to have Katelyn in our family.  She is so loving and caring and when she first started school her teacher commented that what Katelyn has you cannot teach.  She was certainly touched by angels.  Each day I think of the 'what if's' and thank God for the what is.
Our knowledge has grown since our experience, we are now more aware and we are very much in touch with the Foundation.  We have attended all that we have been invited to, the latest being the event at the Scottish Parliament.  This gives us the opportunity to hear other people's experiences.  Microscope is also where we found out about fundraising and when Katelyn was only four we felt strong enough emotionally to put something back towards the research that helped save Katelyn's life.  We decided to take part in the Munro Madness.  Eight of us climbed Meall Corranaich in the Ben Lawers Range.  Our team leader of course was Katelyn, her number was 007 - not James Bond but our own trooper. Her wee sister was only three but she too did the climb, and we managed to raise £1,000.  However our best achievement was to raise awareness; we tapped on many doors and gave out loads of cards displaying the signs to look for.
I would not wish our experience on anyone, however I feel strongly that it made us all as a family value life more.

Kathleen Rielly
April 2009