Mother warns parents after meningitis ordeal

by Simon de Bruxelles

First published in The Times on 23 August 2012.  Reproduced with consent of the author

A mother kept a harrowing picture diary of her three-year-old daughter’s fight against meningitis in the hope other parents may be spared the same ordeal.

Erica Scoffings had a slight temperature when her mother Michelle, 34, put her to bed at 7.30pm. By midnight her temperature was raging, her skin was covered in purple blotches and she was hours from death.

Recognising the symptoms of meningococcal septicaemia, Mrs Scoffings and her husband Michael drove Erica to hospital where she was taken straight into intensive care.

Seven months later Erica has made a remarkable recovery. At one point doctors feared they would have to amputate both her legs which had turned black. The infection also ate away the flesh of her right arm exposing the bone.

Mrs Scoffings said: “It happened so quickly we didn’t have time to think. I was terrified as there was nothing I could do. Every time someone touched her she screamed.

“We expected her to just go on to a drip but we didn’t expect her to go into intensive care. Erica was screaming and I felt helpless. I just had to sit there and watch and as a parent that is the worst thing that can happen.”

Erica, from Chesterfield, Derbyshire, complained of feeling poorly and at first her mother thought she had a stomach bug. But by the time she went to bed at 7.30pm she said she was feeling better and looked fine.

At midnight she called out asking for a drink and when her mother picked her she found purple marks all over her body.

Mrs Scoffings said: “Erica said she couldn’t move. I took the quilt off and saw the purple marks.”

The couple immediately performed the “glass test” — pressing a drinking glass against the rash. If the rash does not fade under pressure it could be septiceamia.

They did not bother to call an ambulance. Mrs Scoffings said: “Not ringing and waiting for an ambulance was the best thing we could have done. You have to get to the hospital quickly and getting there in ten minutes made a difference.”

When they arrived at Chesterfield Royal Hospital they were told Erica was gravely ill and would have had just three hours to live if she had not been treated in time.

She was later transferred to Sheffield Children’s Hospital where she fought for her life in intensive care. Erica was later transferred to a specialist burns unit as the effect on her limbs was similar to severe burns, and she was given skin grafts.

One thing that kept the couple going was Erica herself. Mrs Scoffings added: “She kept saying ‘one day I will walk again mummy’ and we stayed really positive throughout the whole situation.

“She understands that she has been poorly but she has her appetite back now. She is a bit unsteady on her feet and will need splints to walk properly. If it wasn’t for the glass test then we wouldn’t have known what was wrong.

“I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t called out for a drink that evening.”

Erica spent two weeks in hospital and has since returned three times for skin grafts. Less than eight months after being struck down she is walking again and is looking forward to leaving nursery next month.

Mrs Scoffings wants to raise awareness of the symptoms of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia, which affects around 3,500 people in the UK each year.

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