Vicky Matthews, 37, from Norwich lived every parent's worst nightmare when her daughter Grace, five, lost both legs and part of her hand to meningitis. Here, Vicky shares Grace's story of recovery, from hospital bed to baking cakes...
The phone call came from the nursery. 'Can you come and collect Grace, she's not well,' they said. I rushed down to the nursery. I wasn't worried, I'd had to bring her home from nursery last week with a high temperature too. It was January last year and there were lots of bugs going around.
I took her home and gave her Calpol to try and bring her temperature down. Then I noticed a couple of spots at the top of her thigh. Worried that it was meningitis,
I got a glass from the kitchen and pressed it to her skin. The spots disappeared and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But later that night Grace started to get worse. She was sick a few times and then at 2am I lifted up her top and saw more spots on her chest and back. Panicking I rang for an ambulance. It arrived within minutes, and the paramedics took one look at Grace and gave her antibiotics straight away. 'We think it's meningitis,' they told us.
It was all a blur. Grace was rushed to hospital and when we got there she was pumped full of more antibiotics. We could see more and more spots appearing. The rash was spreading before our eyes. 'Mummy, can I have a drink,' she croaked at me, as she was rushed down the corridor into intensive care.
We weren't allowed in to the room with her. We had to wait outside as her condition was so serious. The doctor came out, looking grim. 'There is every chance that Grace isn't going to make it,' he warned us. 'You have to prepare yourselves for losing her.'
After two hours we were allowed in to see her. She was twice the size she was, she had been pumped up with so much fluid. 'Do you want her nightdress?' the nurse asked, holding it out. They'd had to cut her out of it. It smelt of her.
My husband Brian was adamant. 'We don't need it as a keepsake,' he told the nurse, shakily. 'She's coming back home with us.
I'd promised Grace that she could have a kitten. Her friend had one, and she desperately wanted one too. 'We'll get that kitten for you as soon as you get home,' I whispered to her.
Twenty four hours later she was still hanging on, but then the doctors had some devastating news. Grace's organs were failing. Her heart was so weak, they didn't know if she could survive any longer. Then her heart stopped completely. The crash team crowded round her, frantically trying to bring her back to life. The machine gave a beep. Her heart was fighting back.
She stayed with us all that night, then the doctor came in to see us in the morning. 'We don't know how, but her heart has recovered,' he told us smiling. It was such a relief. But Grace wasn't out of danger. She was on a dialysis machine as her kidneys had failed and she was on a ventilator as she couldn't breathe for herself. But day by day she grew stronger. After seven days on the ventilator she started to take little breaths herself. The doctors couldn't believe that she was still here and neither could we.
'She may still have brain damage,' the doctor warned us. But he asked Grace some questions and she nodded her head. It looked like she was going to be alright. And she had some very special medicine to help her. As soon as she opened her eyes, her first visitor was her brother Thomas, six. They have an amazingly close bond, they are always doing things together.
He brought her a picture that he had drawn, of her in her hospital bed. She smiled, the first time that she'd smiled since she'd been in hospital. It filled me with hope.
Then the next day Thomas came back in. Proudly he gave her another drawing. It was of her favourite teddy bear. She laughed. I was astonished. Things were starting to seem normal again, she was smiling and laughing and talking to Thomas, just like they always did.
I'd massage her hands and feet constantly, as they were turning black before my eyes. But they couldn't be saved. A week later she had her left leg amputated, and then a week later they had to take her right one too.
It was heartbreaking but it was her only chance. They were already infected and the doctors wanted to stop the infection spreading around her body.
She was so brave. Part of her left hand was removed too. But she didn't make a fuss. And we were just so grateful that she was still alive and we had her with us. She is just such an amazing girl, so caring.
She loves nothing more than to bake in the kitchen with me, making buns and cakes. I looked at her lying in her hospital bed with her bandaged hand and stumps. Would she ever be able to bake again?
She loved dipping her hands in the flour and mixing in the eggs and sugar. Would she ever be able to do anything like that again?
Thomas kept bringing in the drawings, and he was constantly asking when we were bringing her home. After three months he finally got his wish. It was the most emotional moment when she came through the front door.
When she was lying there fighting for her life I didn't think we'd ever see her at home again.
Four months later when her legs had started to heal, she was fitted with a prosthetic right leg, but her left leg was still painful. She had to have an operation to shave off some of the bone that was protruding so that she could have another prosthetic leg fitted. But it was still painful for her, so she refused to walk on them.
But then she got a special visit from Matthew Newbury, the first man in Britain to receive a specially made type of prosthetic leg. He showed her how he put his leg on and off. I could see Grace's eyes light up as she watched him. Then one afternoon in December she came to pick Thomas up from school. I brought them both home, and as they played in the lounge, she shouted 'mummy look at me.' I turned round and she took a few steps towards me
. It was the first time she had ever walked.
Now there's no stopping her. Occasionally her stumps get sore, and she can't walk for a while, but it doesn't stop her. She and Thomas play in the garden like they always used to do. He is a fantastic inspiration to her, she just wants to be normal like her big brother.
And she bakes too. She doesn't let it hold her back. She has found a way to balance the spoon in-between her wrists and she still bakes all her favourite cakes. She is the bravest little girl I know."
Words: Lucy Laing at Worldwide Features
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