Isla was a perfectly healthy, feeding, sleeping, eating baby. That all changed on a Saturday night when Isla was just two weeks old.
Her father Mark noticed something was off, “She didn’t want to be touched, held or cuddled. Very grizzly. She wouldn’t feed.”
Not feeding. That was a warning sign Mark’s Plunket nurse had told him about. Without that clear advice, Isla might not be alive today.
Mark didn’t want to be the panicked parent. “I thought maybe we should wait until the mo
rning. She’s been fine all day.” Isla’s mum Francie wasn’t having that. As a mum, she just knew when something was not right with her child.
At 1am, Mark called PlunketLine.
Hello PlunketLine, you’re speaking with Tracy. How can I help?
Hi Tracy. I know it says, if you’ve got a sick child, to call this number. We’re not 100% sure what’s going on … She last fed at 7, that was almost six hours ago.
Over the course of that six hours, infection had been rampaging through the soft tissue protecting Isla’s brain and spine. The natural cushions in her brain – called meninges were dangerously inflamed, swelling in size.
If Isla did not get immediate hospital treatment, the pressure on her brain could kill her. If she survived, her brain damage could make her blind or deaf or suffer lifelong seizures or loss of intelligence. As a parent, meningitis can be your worst nightmare.
Tracy, the PlunketLine nurse who took Mark’s call that night, could not be certain Isla had meningitis. But with a baby, you take no chances.
“The Nurse was fantastic,” Mark says. “You should go straight to A&E. Don’t hesitate. Get in there. She reassured us we weren’t being silly.”
“As we were driving to A&E I remember saying we won’t get home until six in the morning. I didn’t know it would be four weeks later.”
At the hospital Isla was rushed for a lumbar puncture. Mark and Francie were asked to leave the room, that it would be better if they didn’t watch what was about to happen. The lumbar puncture involved sticking a needle into Isla’s spine to get some spinal fluid.
Healthy spinal fluid is clear. Isla’s was cloudy. Full of bacteria. Untreated, bacterial meningitis is nearly always fatal. Even with treatment, a quarter of babies die.
When Mark and Francie were allowed to see their baby girl, she was lying limp on a hospital bed, with tubes running in and out of her body, flooding her with antibiotics. The sight was horrifying. The doctor’s words were not the miracle Mark had hoped for.
“This baby’s really ill. This is very serious. She’s very, very sick… look, we can’t tell you she is going to recover.” Mark was truly shocked. He’d thought Isla might just have a cold. Instead, over the next two days his baby was right on the brink of death. Her body and brain were rocked by seizures.
Then the antibiotics took hold and Isla came slowly back to them. Since then, for the first one thousand days of her life, Isla has been carefully checked for any sign that her brush with death still affects her. “She is 100%,” Mark says, “And we credit that entirely to how quickly we got in.”
In life-threatening situations like Isla’s, parents are often unsure if they should call for help.
Your first priority is your child. So call PlunketLine first.
About anything, any time of the day or night.
A Plunket nurse sounded the alert about feeding and PlunketLine reassured Mark about going to hospital. “That is why I am such a supporter of Plunket,” Mark says. “Francie and I are extremely grateful. If we had not made that call, our daughter might not be here today. We nearly waited until the next day and that would have been fatal.”
“We see Isla bouncing around now. Three years old. Happy as Larry and full of life. We’re so lucky it wasn’t different.”
Please consider giving a donation to Plunket. Generosity like yours saved Isla’s life. With your support Plunket can give families the advice and support they need: for everyday parenting and for the most frightening times of their lives.