Emily Ashurst, 26, and partner Pete, also 26, were devastated when their newly born baby contracted meningitis and grace was rushed to intensive care and put on life support. Several days later her life support machine was turned off – but miraculously little grace started breathing on her own…
When Emily and Pete planned to have another child they never imagined baby Grace would turn out to be such a miracle.
Emily said: “Pete left to fight in Afghanistan so when I found out I was pregnant it gave me something positive to focus on.
“We already had Megan, 6, but we were really looking forward to having another child.”
The pregnancy was normal until the last few weeks when Emily experienced swelling on her arms and legs. Doctors speculated that it could be pre-eclampsia but it was later diagnosed as Group B Streptococcus.
The condition is a bacterial infection and the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborn babies.
It rarely causes infection in adults but if a pregnant woman is infected with Group B Strep, there is a chance she could pass it to her unborn baby.
She said: “My first labour was extremely painful so I was expecting the same experience with Grace.
“But my contractions weren’t painful at all, I wasn’t even sure I was in labour. By the time we got to the delivery room there was no time for pain relief and I gave birth 11 minutes later.
“It was an easy labour and we were thrilled to hold our little girl. Grace went through tests for her eyesight and hearing and she was absolutely perfect.
“We returned home with her and the next six weeks were wonderful – she was thriving.
“She began smiling at me at four weeks and looking up at me as I held her. She was perfectly healthy and there were no signs that anything was going to go wrong.”
On Saturday the 16th of May Emily noticed Grace’s appetite had reduced and that night she vomited.
She said: “Grace was crying all night, but I noticed it wasn’t normal crying for a baby, she was sobbing rather than crying loudly as usual.
“We were up all night with her, and as I sat next to her cot I noticed that she was rolling her eyes. She was also very pale and cold.
Emily took Grace in another room to change her and was shocked to see purple blotches all over her skin.
“It was horrible, it looked like a corned beef effect and it was worst on her hands and face.
“I thought she must have a viral infection and we didn’t expect it was Group B meningitis as we didn’t know what the symptoms were.
“When we got to the hospital a nurse picked her up and took her away.
“The next time we saw her she was lying in the resuscitation room. There was a mask over her face and she was in a little incubator with wires coming out of every inch of her tiny body.
“I gasped in horror as I saw my helpless little girl wired up to machines.”
The doctors told Emily and Pete their daughter had blood poisoning and she had stopped breathing.
Emily said: “I was devastated but no one could give us definite answers. I wanted to just run over to her and hug her but I wasn’t allowed near her.
On Monday May 18th Grace was transferred to Newcastle General Hospital but at this point the doctors were fairly certain she would pull through.
Emily and Pete followed in the car and were told to stay in the waiting room for an hour and a half.
Emily said: “It felt like hours and hours but finally we were allowed to see Grace and the horror of what I saw made me breakdown for the first time.
“She was lying in an incubator with her eyes taped shut, tubes up her nose and seven different types of fluid pumping into her, including four types of antibiotics.”
Doctors confirmed test results and explained that Grace had late onset Group B Streptococcus meningitis
Strep B kills one in eight affected babies who have contracted it from the mother during childbirth.
The test for Group B Strep is not routinely done on the NHS and women usually have to request it. After a simple swab test the infection can be easily treated and prevent it being past onto the baby.
Emily said: “I didn’t know anything about Strep B but doctors said it was serious – I couldn’t stop crying.
“Going home without her was excruciating – I hadn’t been away from her in six weeks.”
At home Emily looked on the internet to find out more about the infection. She read that pregnant women can be tested for Group B Strep.
She said: “I couldn’t believe that this could have been prevented, why wasn’t I tested? I asked the doctors the next day but they said the test wasn’t routinely offered – it seemed so unfair.”
The next day Grace’s condition had deteriorated. She had been given sedation which doctors were trying to wean her off but she wasn’t responding.
There was no response in her eyes to tests and she was showing signs of organ failure.
On the third day more tests were carried out as doctors waited to see if she could breathe on her own, but she couldn’t.
Grace’s parents were told she had suffered catastrophic brain-damage and they decided to have her baptized.
Emily said: “When I asked the doctors and nurses questions their response was always ‘she is a very very poorly baby’ and I could tell from the nurses’ faces that Grace was in a very bad way.
“During those devastating four days we spent hours in the car outside the hospital just to get out of there.
“On the fourth day we were sitting in the car and I said it wasn’t fair to keep her alive on the life support machine when she couldn’t breathe on her own.
“Pete agreed and we went through everything that was wrong with her. She was blind, brain-damaged, unable to breathe without support – it seemed so cruel to keep her falsely alive when doctors had said she hadn’t responded to any treatment.
“After a long and very painful discussion we made the decision together that it would be kinder to Grace to turn her life support machine off, sooner rather than later, because she wouldn’t be able to stay on it forever.”
Emily and Pete discussed the option with Grace’s doctors who immediately agreed it was the right decision.
The couple called in their family and friends to the hospital to say goodbye to Grace and at they planned to turn the machine off at 11 o’clock on Wednesday May 20.
Emily said: “That evening the whole family said goodbye to Grace and I found it so difficult to hold back the tears. Pete was wonderful support but we were both absolutely devastated.”
Everyone left the room so that Emily and Pete could be by themselves as Grace passed away.
“The nurse took all the wires out of Grace’s little body, he took the stitches out of her neck where the tubes had been sewn into her and he lifted her out of the incubator and put her into my lap.
“He explained that when he turned the life support machine off it was possible that Grace would take some gasping breaths but that it was normal and she would pass away quite quickly.
“‘Just say when and I’ll pull the wire out,’ he said, as Pete and I spent our last few moment with Grace.
“When we were both ready I said ‘Pull it now’”.
At 11:20pm that evening Grace’s life support machine was turned off and the nurse left the room so that Emily and Pete could be alone with their six-week-old daughter as she passed away.
“Nothing really happened for the next fifteen minutes but then she had a seizure and went bright red – we thought this was her taking her last breath.
“This was the worst moment ever, it was so distressing to see her physically die in my arms and we were both so upset.
“Then we realised she was still breathing”.
“Pete and I just looked at each other in amazement – was she fighting on and breathing on her own?”
At one moment the couple were grieving for their six-week-old daughter and the next they were watching her take little breathes for the first time in four days.
Emily said: “That night we were in limbo, we had no idea whether Grace was just waiting to pass away or whether she was going to make it to the morning.
“The nurse told us not to get our hopes up, but an hour went by, then two and four hours later I thought Grace must have been hungry so I asked if I could give her a bottle.”
The next morning doctors were astonished that Grace was still alive.
This was the moment that Emily and Pete knew for certain that Grace had made it.
Emily said: “We were overwhelmed, it was amazing that she had pulled through when we had turned off the life support machine, certain she would die.
“We were over the moon, it was a miracle.”
Grace was transferred to the North Tyneside Hospital where the family first went to A&E and she stayed there for three weeks while on antibiotics.
Emily said: “Gradually she started moving her arms and legs and making noises again. It was amazing to hear her cry again after weeks of silence.”
On Friday the 19th of June Emily and Pete took their daughter home.
Emily said: “We are taking it one day at a time, cerebral palsy is a possibility but we have no idea how bad the brain-damage will be.
“Her breathing has stabilised which shows her brain stem isn’t damaged, which is very promising.
“I can handle brain-damage but I wish our little girl could see. Her right eye doesn’t open and she is still blind, but doctors say her sight could come back.
“But the most important thing is that she is alive and she knows who we are. Doctors gave her a one per cent chance of survival – she really is a little miracle and we are so lucky to still have her.”