A Rotherham dad has paid tribute to his wife, whose swift actions saved the life of their toddler son when he suddenly fell ill with meningitis.
Doctors at Sheffield Children’s Hospital told Rachel Bowdler-Smith that her actions in rushing two-year-old Tyler to hospital when she found he was covered in dark bruise-like marks made the difference between her son’s life or death.
Her husband Tony is so proud of Rachel that he wanted to tell her story as a surprise for her birthday this week.
He is also keen that other parents know what to look out for and do if their youngster falls ill with the infection.
The story is all the more poignant because the couple, who have been married for 10 years, went through years of IVF treatment to have Tyler.
Rachel underwent the trauma of five miscarriages and the death of her longed-for son Jordan an hour after he was born.
Amazingly, Tyler now has a baby brother, Mason, who was conceived naturally, to the couple’s surprise and joy.
The little boy is on the road to recovery now but has had to learn to walk and do many things again at the family’s home in Blackburn. His speech has also been affected and he may have some brain damage.
He fell ill in February when he came home feeling shivery after a day out with his grandparents. A dose of Calpol seemed to put him right but Rachel was still worried about him.
Tony took him out of bed when he was poorly that evening and Rachel started reading through Tyler’s red book health record for help.
Her mother’s instinct told her to pack a bag for Tyler in case he had to go to hospital.
Tony said: “She knew something was wrong. I slept in Tyler’s bed and she took him into bed with her.
“During the night she heard him murmuring. She put the light on and saw all these bruise marks on his head and chest. She came running, shouting me.
“We got his stuff and ran to the car to take him to hospital. During the journey he stopped breathing She panicked and I tried to calm her down and we phoned 999.
“The paramedic arrived in a car and then an ambulance took him straight to the children’s hospital.
“A doctor said, ‘you’ve saved his life. An hour later he’d have gone. He’s going to get through this’.”
However, the couple feared the worst. Luckily, they had given Tyler the best chance by putting him straight into the car. If they had waited for an ambulance Tyler would have been taken to hospital in Rotherham, where they don’t have ventilator equipment for toddlers.
“When we got there they had to drill into his legs and he never even murmured or cried. His heartbeat went up to 230. They got that calmed down a little bit and had to put Tyler into a coma with drugs,” said Tony.
Then Tyler was taken to intensive care, where doctors battled for 10 days to save him from meningococcal meningitis and septicemia. He had to have blood and platelet transfusions and huge doses of antibiotics. His whole body swelled up and he was covered in black marks.
Tony said: “We were told he would probably never move or walk again. He wouldn’t wake up properly when they brought him out of the coma. They thought his heart was damaged at first.
“They took all the tubes out and he couldn’t move his head. He was whimpering like a puppy and, when his mum wanted to give him a cuddle, moving him was hurting him.
“Going forward, the doctors told us they feared he wouldn’t be able to walk or talk again.”
Tyler was eventually moved to a ward where doctors worked for several weeks on controlling his infection.
He was allowed home again but had to go back into hospital and recovery was long and slow.
Rachel had found out to her amazement that she was pregnant last December. Tony said: “Everything about the baby went out of the window because we were concentrating on Tyler.
“He couldn’t hold his own head up and then had to learn to crawl and walk like a baby again.
“He lost that much weight he went to bone and lost all the calcium in his bones as well. We had to be careful he didn’t hurt himself.”
At the same time Rachel was having to cope with her unexpected pregnancy. Doctors had discovered she was suffering from lupus, which affects the immune system, which had caused her to miscarry.
She spent a long time in hospital when she was pregnant with Tyler and had to have daily injections when she was pregnant with Mason.
Window firm worker Tony said: “We felt better when we got him home. With my wife having a previous history of losing babies, she has panic attacks in certain places.
“I had stayed with Tyler in hospital so Rachel could have a bit of a rest at home.”
Tony praised his sisters-in-law Caroline and Clare Bowdler and Clare’s husband Andy and his own sister Joanne Smith for rallying round to support the family.
Last month they were all thrilled when Mason arrived and is a healthy little boy.
Now the family are beginning to enjoy their life together, even though Tyler is still recovering from the serious effects of his illness on his body.
He is becoming a happy, lively little boy again but is being monitored closely by the hospital.
Tony said: “Rachel is Tyler’s hero. He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his mum. If he could he’d tell her you have saved my life.”
He added: “She has been a big rock and she’s been strong for everybody. I want to thank her for staying strong and supportive to Tyler and for looking after everybody. She had a lot on her shoulders.”
guide to meningitis symptoms
The Meningitis Trust charity website, http://www.meningitis-trust.org/, has guides to symptoms for different ages.
This is its guide to symptoms of meningitis and septicemia to watch out for in babies and toddlers.
The charity says that if you suspect someone has meningitis, trust your instincts and act immediately to seek urgent medical help.
The website says: “Babies and toddlers can’t tell you how they are feeling and they can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.”
The symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.
In children and babies they are:
Cold hands and feet.
Refusing food and vomiting.
Fretful and dislikes being handled.
Drowsy, floppy and unresponsive.
Rapid breathing or grunting.
Pale, blotchy skin.
Spots or a rash. Do the glass test. If the spots do not fade when pressed with a glass or transparent plastic tumbler, seek help immediately. If the spots fade when a glass is rolled over them, keep checking in case this changes.
An unusual cry or moaning.
A tense, bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on top of the skull)
Convulsions or seizures.
The Meningitis Trust says that babies, toddlers and children under five are an at-risk group for meningitis, with over 50 per cent of all cases occurring in this age group.
More than three babies, toddlers or young children will be taken ill with meningitis every day.
Meningitis kills more children under the age of five than any other infectious disease in the UK.
Meningitis is the disease parents fear the most.
Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to meningitis as they cannot easily fight infection because their immune system is not yet fully developed.