LATER this year, Chris Cheshire will undertake a challenge in support of the people and place that saved his newborn son’s life and got his family through their darkest hour. Rob Bellis writes.
Adam Cheshire’s chances of survival were considered so slim that staff in the Neonatal Unit of Royal Shrewsbury Hospital told health visitors to prepare for a grieving family.
Adam had been born at 10.30pm on Friday, March 25 of this year.
The following morning his father Chris, 46, had returned home for a shower and a short rest, intending to return during visiting hours that evening.
But then he received a phone call to say his newborn son was in the neonatal unit and that his wife, Charlotte, was, at that moment, paralysed from the waist down having suffered a pelvic split during the birth which had not been discovered until that point.
Adam had contracted group B streptococcus (GBS), a type of bacteria that is the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborn babies in the UK, with meningitis.
“He was grumpy and wouldn’t settle but I just thought he needed a cuddle,” recalled Charlotte, 33, who is originally from Canada and for whom Adam is her first child.
“I didn’t know any differently but the nurses were concerned and obviously knew something was wrong.
“He was taken to neonatal and within an hour had stopped breathing.”
Adam was put on a ventilator. He was suffering constant seizures, a dangerously high fever and was not expected to live.
“Apparently many babies who contract this illness are still born and the reality was that, despite their skills and the technology available to them, the staff did not think he would survive,” said Charlotte. “They contacted the health visitors’ office in Telford, where we live, to say ‘prepare for a grieving family’.”
The bacteria that causes GBS bacteria is found living harmlessly in the vaginal and gastrointestinal tracts of up to 50 per cent of healthy women.
It may be passed on to a baby either while the baby is still in the womb or during delivery.
Although about 50 per cent of babies born to mothers carrying group B streptococcus pick up the micro-organism, only a very small percentage of these newborns then go on to develop the severe disease.
“The pregnancy was completely normal,” said Charlotte, who has since recovered and is now able to walk again.
”There are no symptoms so we had no idea anything would be wrong. The bacteria is usually picked up during the birth.
“I’ve since discovered it’s easy to test for and that they do test for it in some countries, but not the UK, despite it being the biggest cause of infant death in this country.
“I’ve also discovered you can have the test done privately for £32. If the woman does have the bacteria, then the doctor is able to administer penicillin before the birth and the baby won’t get it.”
The Cheshires were faced with an agonising wait to find out whether their new baby boy would pull through.
“Adam’s life was considered to be very much in danger until Wednesday or Thursday,” Charlotte explained.
“Even then the doctors said they believed there could be serious complications – brain damage, severe epilepsy. He spent a full week with a machine breathing for him.”
Against the odds, Adam recovered.
He was left deaf by the illness but, now 13 weeks old, is developing normally and is otherwise a happy, healthy baby.
In August, Chris will take on a 23 mile sponsored walk around the Wrekin, finishing at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, to raise funds for the neonatal unit. His elder son George, 9, will also complete a five-mile sponsored walk in July.
Charlotte added: “The 23 miles is to signify the 23 days that Adam spent in hospital.
“It would have been bad enough if it was just Adam in a state but, because it was both of us, it was awful for Chris.
“The staff were so amazing with all of us. It wasn’t just their skills and the technology but how genuinely caring they were
“ It’s extraordinary to see that – these are people who do this every day and yet you are made to feel like you are their only patient.”
All funds raised from Chris’ sponsored walk, on August 6, and George’s, on July 9, will be donated to the Neo Natal Unit of Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. To make a donation visit www.justgiving.com/walkingforadam. For information on GBS visit the Group B Strep Support Charity at www.gbss.org.uk.