Meningitis is still rife and people must be aware of the symptoms, warned a Bolton mother as the country marks National Meningitis Awareness Week.
Amelia Ikin saw her three-year-old son Toby admitted to hospital for a week in 2011 with meningitis and septicaemia.
Most unsettlingly, Amelia had contacted Toby’s GP, taken him to A&E and rang NHS Direct and they all insisted that the child, who goes to Lord Street Primary school in Horwich, only had a virus.
Amelia, 30, wants people to be more aware of the tell-tale signs of meningitis and wants to see improved medical attention from GPs.
His mum describes Toby as a ‘cheeky, caring and humorous’ boy who excels at school, idolises wrestling star John Cena and can’t decide between Manchester United and Arsenal on the football pitch.
The youngster lives with Amelia, who teaches 16-19 year olds by day and works with adults who have learning disabilities by night, and his dad Andrew, aged 35, who is a supervisor in a warehouse.
Toby’s parents noticed something was wrong with the football and wrestling-mad tot so Amelia booked a day off work and stayed at home with him – but were not aware just how ill he was.
Amelia said: “He was lethargic, had flu-like symptoms, was sleeping for longer and he was really quiet.
“I booked the day off because he was ill. I woke up in the morning at normal time and he hadn’t woken up. I thought because he wasn’t feeling that well I’d just leave him.”
He slept in until 10am which she thought was late.
Amelia added: “I went into the bedroom, tried to wake him up and shake him but he just wasn’t responding.
“He slowly opened his eyes and he was all limp so I picked him up and then he just started having a fit in my arms.”
Remarkably, Amelia took Toby, who attended Eagley Junior School during his treatment, to doctors twice in the week prior to the incident and was turned away.
Amelia said: “He was in there [the doctor’s surgery] for two minutes. They didn’t even check him.
“He sat in the chair, they looked at him and said ‘it’s just a virus and to give him some Calpol’.
“He even had the spots and they still said it was just a virus. It even got to the point where we took him to A&E.
“We went there, they checked him over and said ‘no, it’s just a viru’. And that was it, we got sent away again.”
Amelia, Andrew and Toby were turned away by Dr. Wong at Dunscar surgery in Bromley Cross, Royal Bolton Hospital and even by the NHS Direct service helpline.
When the family complained, after Toby’s recovery, about the multiple-misdiagnosis they were told that they were unable to make a formal complaint.
Amelia said: “We even rang up NHS Direct as well. They asked for the symptoms again and said it was just a virus.
“He’s been let down by all these professionals. And although nothing major happened in terms of anything being amputated and he didn’t die, we wanted to make a formal complaint to the doctors and the area manager had a meeting with my husband.
“They basically said that we can’t press charges against the doctor because: 1) he didn’t have anything amputated and 2) he didn’t die.
“They said what we’ll do is we’ll make sure that our doctors get further training on it.
“I just thought that was a cop out. They didn’t even bother at all.”
Amelia did, however, reserve praise for the staff at Bolton hospital once the correct diagnosis was confirmed.
She said: “I couldn’t have wanted more, they were absolutely brilliant the team there and helped him.
“It was horrific. If it wasn’t for the support of my family, I’m not sure how I would have made it through it – especially when he had to have a lumbar puncture [a medical procedure where a needle is inserted into the lower spine], I couldn’t go in.
“My husband is not a very emotional person but he came out and said ‘I never want to do that ever again’.
“The doctor’s said he’d made a remarkable recovery. The first day or so, he was asleep all the time. But after the medication and everything he was sat up in bed. He’s a fighter, definitely”
Toby has endured a traumatic early life.
Amelia said: ”When he was born he had a traumatic birth, he was born with talipes and has problems with his feet. And then he had pneumonia and then meningitis so he’s had quite a struggle really.
“He has a few behavioural problems. I’m not sure whether it’s because of that or whether it’s just because of his age.
“They turned around and said that later in life he could have learning difficulties or something like that but he excels at school.
“Me and my husband, as parents, are a bit soft on him and people say you need to be a bit harder on him but I think it’s because of everything he’s gone through.”
Nowadays, Toby is just a normal little boy who is enjoying his young life.
Amelia said: “He’s into his wrestling, playing football and is like nothing ever happened.
“He still knows when he sees an ambulance or drives by a hospital what happened and knows that he was poorly.”
Amelia’s story is fronting the campaign for the charity Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) to raise awareness and she is desperate for people to become more aware and for the retraining of medical staff.
The MRF estimate that there are around 3,200 cases of meningitis and septicaemia every year in the UK.
Meningitis can be easily mistaken for milder illnesses – but unlike a dose of flu it can kill you within hours and may cause serious, life-long disabilities.
Amelia said: “We need to make people aware. You need to not be naive about it and make sure you know the signs. I don’t think there is enough awareness about it. It’s a serious disease.
“If you’re a GP and a child comes in with flu-like symptoms you need to take a more prioritised approach about it.
“They just looked at them and aren’t checking anything about him and said it will be a 24-hour thing.”
“I don’t think [the medical profession] are doing enough.”
National Meningitis Awareness week takes place between September 15 and 21, more information is available here
Donations can be made online and people can also donate £5 from their mobile phone by texting GIFT00 £5 to 70070
You can also call the MRF’s helpline on 080 8800 3344.