Heart wrenching start to life

Annabelle Fisk was born a happy and healthy baby girl, in Rockhampton, Queensland on the 8th of November 2012. She is our second child, a little sister to James, who at the time was two years old. When Annabelle was born it was the greatest gift to have a beautiful baby girl. Following her birth, she was in hospital for 5 days and seemed in normal health, so we took our precious bundle of joy home. But, unfortunately our happiness was short lived.

The night that she was brought home from hospital, she suffered from high temperatures, and was very sleepy. She was so sleepy that it was difficult to wake her, to feed her. As parents we had no idea she was so ill.

Early the next morning we took her to our local doctor, where her condition, sent alarm bells ringing through the centre. Her temperature had increased and she was not responding to the routine tests that the doctor was performing.

Things became very frightening, as her condition deteriorated rapidly and she was rushed into our local hospital’s Emergency Centre. Specialists performed a lumbar puncture, and blood tests were ordered for our little daughter. At this point an infection was detected through Annabelle's meninges system, but no one knew what was causing it.

Annabelle was admitted into hospital for ongoing tests. She was placed in an isolated room and visitors were kept to a minimum. As her first week of life progressed the doctor’s noticed Annabelle’s blood oxygen levels were dropping and her temperature dropped dramatically. She was placed on oxygen to maintain her levels. She was placed on a specially heated pillow to help her maintain her warmth. And she was drip fed a mixture of expressed breast milk and formula to keep up her fluids. During this time Annabelle lost a lot of weight, she weighed well below her birth weight.

The doctor’s needed to find out what was causing Annabelle’s condition, so as each day passed she underwent more invasive blood tests. The Specialists in Rockhampton did everything that they could to treat her, as you could imagine, it was heart breaking to see our baby girl in this condition, with tiny tubes and monitors connected to her. Our greatest fear, was the unknown diagnosis for our baby daughter.

On her 10th day of life, Annabelle was finally diagnosed with Enterovirus Meningitis, which is a Viral Meningitis. This type of virus is known to attack the heart muscles and for a newborn baby, it can be fatal. With Annabelle’s being so little and only having a weak immune system, she was now fighting for her life.

A decision was made that Annabelle was to be transferred to a hospital in our closest major city, which was Brisbane, for further testing and to have access to possible treatment. After arriving safely in Brisbane, Annabelle was rushed to hospital. Now that Annabelle was in Brisbane, she had access to Specialist Paediatric Cardiac (Heart) Doctors and more advanced 24 hour monitoring equipment. Doctor’s treated Annabelle with doses of a human blood product, to build her immune system and help her fight the virus. We were looked after by an exceptional team of Paediatric Specialists who I am forever grateful for their care, support and knowledge.

By the end of Annabelle’s first month of life, she finally began to show more promising signs of being able to beat this virus. I will never forget the day that I saw her first open her eyes and look up at us. It was a defining moment, that moment when she awakened, and I knew as a mum, that she was going to be okay. Now, I am happy to say that Annabelle is alive and well today.

Annabelle fought off this dreaded virus, and was flown back to hospital in Rockhampton. From then on she was able to return home to be with her family. The Doctor’s prognosis was one third of patients don’t make it, one third make it, but have on-going problems and one third completely recover.

Initially as a result of the virus, Annabelle’s heart was found to be not pumping properly and she was diagnosed with a heart condition called Myocarditis. Annabelle was placed on heart medication for twelve months to assist her heart to pump adequately, and to help her heart to heal from any scaring.

When Annabelle reached 12 months old, I finally had a chance to stop and reflect. Wow! Annabelle made it to twelve months old! She is looking like she is going to make a full recovery, which is truly a miracle. She has been taken off her heart medication and is surprising her Doctors with her recovery.

During her first year of life, I will admit Annabelle had a struggle. She was slower to meet her milestones and was slow at developing. She was slightly behind with her muscle development and she did not have much muscle strength generally. It was a huge struggle to get her to begin solid foods. She attended Physiotherapy sessions regularly to help her build her strength.

Recently, we just celebrated Annabelle’s third birthday. She is a completely different girl. She is showing no signs of ailments from her difficult beginning to life. Each year she is getting positive results from heart check-ups, she’s eating and developing well. Each day she is surprising us as parents with her resilience and boundless enthusiasm for life.

In conclusion, I know that some patients who have suffered from this virus or any form of Meningitis are not as lucky as Annabelle. My heart goes out to them and their loved ones. For a little baby to get Meningitis is a devastating tragedy.

From our experience with Enterovirus Meningitis, I have learnt that it is a very deadly and contagious virus for babies. Hardly anyone knows about it, we as parents certainly didn’t know about it, and how dangerous it could be. My only wish is that more information and support were available in relation to this virus and Meningitis in general. If we can prevent more cases of this virus, we may help save parents a lot of heart ache, and save more little babies’ lives.

If you have been moved byBelinda and Annabelle's story, you can help make a difference by donating to Meningitis Centre Australia, to make people more aware of this disease. Go to Meningitis Centre Australia