Schoolgirl left in coma after ‘doctors dismissed meningitis symptoms as common cold’

A schoolgirl was left fighting for her life after doctors dismissed meningitis symptoms as a common cold.

In June last year, Harri, then 12, had an average cold suffering from a runny rose and headache but after a week things took a turn for the worst.

The schoolgirl’s temperature soared and she was shaking but her mum Toni Tuson, 38, claims she was dismissed from A&E despite a blood test confirming she had an infection.

Later in the evening, Harri, from Eltham, London, rapidly deteriorated and she was rushed into hospital where she spent six days in an induced coma.

Ms Tuson, who is a business information manager, has shared Harri’s story to encourage other mums to trust their instinct and raise awareness of the bacterial infection.

Harri, from Eltham, London, was told she had a cold

(Mercury Press & Media)

She said: “Harri is very lucky to be alive.

“At one point, she was so unstable doctors prepared me for the worst.

“It was horrendous as I had been in Urgent Care and A&E all day with her but we were sent home.

“Even though she was showing obvious signs of infection such as a high temperature – almost at 40 – yet she was shaking.

“Her body also became mottled but a dose of paracetamol masked it making her appear better than she was.” Ms Tuson claims the doctor diagnosed Harri with a virus but deep down she knew it was something more sinister.

She pleaded for a blood test as Harri looked ‘grey and unwell’.

Ms Tuson said: “My gut feeling was telling me this isn’t just a cold or virus.

“I had to push for a blood test and it came back with markers that would indicate an infection but we were discharged.

“In hindsight and the benefit of all the research I have since done, I shouldn’t have left but we were there for eight hours and I was made to feel like a neurotic parent and that nothing was wrong, so I had to trust the doctor’s word and go home.” Ms Tuson lay at the end of her daughter’s bed with an overnight hospital bag ready.

At approximately 2am, Harri woke up and walked to the toilet but didn’t return to her room.

Ms Tuson adds: “She was completely out of it and didn’t even know where she was.

“She was staring right through me and looked brain damaged.

“One pupil was bigger than the other and I later found out that this was a seizure.

“I was terrified.” An ambulance arrived and they were rushed back to Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, London.

She was put into an induced coma for six days.

Ms Tuson adds: “A CT scan established it was a brain infection and they started antibiotics immediately.

“We were then transferred to Kings College hospital in London for an MRI scan and she was diagnosed with meningitis.

“I was in shock as she didn’t have the symptoms I was familiar with – such as a non-blanching rash or sensitivity to light.” Doctors also discovered Harri had encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain along with a collection of fluid.

The mum-of-two continues: “When we arrived at Kings we were told there was a high possibility she would need surgery to have pressure released from her brain.

“They said they would do everything possible to protect her brain but prepared us for the worst, saying some people don’t even wake up.

“Harri started off with a cold but the sinus infection migrated towards her brain and festered in her sinuses.

“That is how she ended up with bacterial meningitis.” On the fifth day in a coma, they tried to wake Harri up but her left lung collapsed and the right side of her body was paralyzed.

Ms Tuson describes the following day as ‘one of the hardest’ as Harri woke up emotionless.

She said: “I was happy that she was starting to wake up but it was the worst day.

“I was terrified as she was trying to scream but no noise was coming out.

“She wasn’t responding – I thought she was brain dead.

“She had no emotions and was unable to form a sentence.

“But thankfully, every day something more would move like her lips and eyes which gave us a little bit of hope.

“It took about three days for Harri to switch back on.” The schoolgirl spent three weeks in Kings College hospital and then nurses came daily to infuse her with antibiotics for six weeks.

Schoolgirl had to learn how to walk again after eight weeks in a wheelchair

(Mercury Press & Media)

Harri used a wheelchair for eight weeks and had to learn how to walk again and rebuild her strength.

Ms Tuson said: “Harri is very smart and loves to read.

“I was worried in case she would struggle academically but she has managed to catch back up with school work after missing a term.

“It took months for Harri to recover and she still has balance issues.

“She was unlucky enough to get it because it is so rare, but incredibly lucky to survive and come back without serious permanent damage.

“I am familiar with meningitis but her symptoms were so vague.

“The mottling went with the paracetamol but there was something underlying that wasn’t right.

“I am glad I trusted my instincts and slept in her bed otherwise I don’t think she would be here today.

“I knew there was something wrong but I didn’t think it was meningitis as she didn’t have a non blanching rash or sensitivity to light.

“Clinically, she wasn’t well as her heart rate was 142 beats per minute and her temperature was so high.

“She shouldn’t have been sent home but thankfully when she arrived back at the hospital in the ambulance the doctors did an amazing job.

“She was just let down by the urgent care team at A&E.

“Harri is doing super well. “We are still in shock that it’s happened.”

A spokesperson from the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said: “We cannot comment on this case in the media due to patient confidentiality, but we carried out a detailed investigation last year after Mrs Tuson complained about her daughter’s care, and we sent her a full response in October 2021, addressing all of her concerns.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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