MEET, Olivia George, aged nine months, a miracle tot who beat meningitis. Her parents tell JEN MILLS their story.
LITTLE Olivia George from Pontypool was just days old when she became ill with meningitis and was airlifted to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
Danielle and Jamie George had to pack just a few items of clothes in a bag and rush to hospital alongside their new baby as she lay in an incubator in the RAF helicopter.
Olivia was so ill the hospital priest had even come to her bedside in Cardiff and baptised her Olivia Beth because her family feared they might never take her home.
The smiling baby girl who now lives in Griffithstown with mum Danielle, dad Jamie and two-year-old brother Isaac could not look more different to the tiny infant who fought for life in an intensive care unit.
Almost two months after Olivia was first treated, she was discharged from hospital and has made a remarkable recovery.
Danielle George, 35, says she now thinks of Olivia as her “miracle baby”, and counts herself lucky to have her beloved daughter home.
When Olivia was born in Nevill Hall Hospital on August 30 last year she was a healthy baby of 8lb 4oz.
Her proud parents took her home, but within a week she began to appear ill.
The weather was hot and her parents put her temperature and sniffle down to this, but they soon realised something more serious was happening.
“On the Thursday she wouldn’t feed, wouldn’t wake up, was very lethargic,” Danielle said.
“I just knew something was wrong.
“We started phoning NHS direct and they told us to go to Nevill Hall.
“Tests came back to show meningitis, but they didn’t know which strain.
“Her heart rate was going high, 236 beats per minute.”
They were referred to the Heath in Cardiff, but her condition soon deteriorated, with the cardiologist unable to get her heart rate to stop rising.
Olivia was taken into intensive care, but was so poorly that she “crashed”.
It was the moment her parents had dreaded.
Her father Jamie, 41, said: “The doctors said they lost her for a little while but they brought her back.”
They made the decision to transfer her care to specialist children’s hospital Great Ormond Street.
“Luckily the helicopter that we went in was in the air already when the call went out,” Danielle said.
“Isaac had just turned two and we had to pull him out of nursery.
“We all had to adapt quickly.”
When the family arrived at Great Ormond Street, Olivia – whose weight had dropped below 8lb – was put on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine for ten days, this pumped oxygen into her blood for her.
After she was taken off the machine she was put onto a ventilator which helped her breath.
Jamie said: “You just get up in the morning, get yourself straight over to the hospital.
“One of us would spend the day with Olivia, one with Isaac.
“He kept us focused more than anything.
“Afterwards, when you reflect on things, you realise what you went through.”
“It was upsetting obviously because you can see all these tubes coming in and out.
“You’re just so helpless, basically – it’s all down to her and the doctors and you’ve got to put your trust in them.”
He said they were faced with decisions no-one ever wants to have to make, such as when she went onto the ECMO machine.
“We had to sign a consent form, said Jamie.
“One of the risks was she could get brain damage.
“If you don’t do something she could go downhill, but if you do something there’s a chance something will go wrong.
“Thank God she never seemed to have all the side effects.”
After five weeks in Great Ormond Street, the staff felt she had recovered enough to return to Wales, and she was taken back to the Heath Hospital for two weeks.
Because she had been so ill she had to been weaned off morphine painkillers, and she also needed to learn to breathe for herself without an oxygen machine.
Her parents said dealing with the illness was incredibly difficult.
“You worry about your kids normally anyway, but it’s tenfold with her,” said Jamie.
“For Danielle as well it was just the week after giving birth. She had physical and mental stuff to get over without that on top.”
All a mum wants to do is be able to hold her baby, Danielle said, but for a time it was impossible for her and Jamie to cuddle their daughter because she was so ill.
“She was sedated for about two weeks. We hadn’t held her for four weeks,” she said.
“When we were first allowed to she was obviously connected to a lot.
“We couldn’t just pick her up, there had to be two nurses to lift her up to us.”
Now Olivia is back home she has only needed to go back to hospital a few times.
She still needs to take beta blockers and medication to widen her arteries, as she developed enterovirus myocarditis (a heart disease) because of the meningitis, but she is reaching her development milestones like any other nine-month-old, and her parents think she will soon be crawling.
“We’re very pleased with how she’s progressing”, Danielle said.
“Everyone comments on how well she’s doing. She’s clapping her hands now and she’s saying ‘dad, dad, dad’, ‘mum, mum, mum’.”
After coming so close to losing her, Danielle and Jamie are eager to protect Olivia.
“We only let her cry for a few seconds,“ Danielle said.
“We know she can’t cry for periods of time because of her heart.”
“We do check if she gets breathless quick or gets tired quickly – that’s something we have to look out for,” Jamie added.
But as Olivia whizzes around the floor on her walker following her big brother, they seem a happy family with little sign of the trauma they were going through just six months earlier.
Danielle and Jamie have made a keepsake box for Olivia so she will understand something about what happened to her when she first came into the world.
“At first we didn’t want to take photos because we didn’t know what the outcome would be,” Jamie said.
“We were just in the moment, not knowing whether she was going to pull through or not.
“We wouldn’t want photos of that if it all went wrong.
“The nurses encouraged us.
“They said she wouldn’t believe us when she was older.”