Within 24 hours, one-week-old Emmy Skelton had lost interest in feeding and was showing signs of becoming more and more lethargic. It became evident that she needed urgent help when she was struggling so hard to breathe that she began foaming at the mouth.
Her parents, Ryan and Bethany, rushed baby Emmy to HSC Winnipeg Children’s Hospital, and the quick-acting medical team, though not certain what the issue was, began to treat her for the worst-case scenario – bacterial meningitis. Their wise decision saved her life as results from a spinal tap and blood test confirmed it was a bacterial meningitis infection.
“The quick actions of the emergency team when we initially brought her to the hospital essentially saved her life, and the close monitoring and attention that each department team gave to Emmy during her stay is the reason why we were able to leave the hospital with her in our arms. That is something we are eternally grateful for,” says Bethany.
The path to recovery was long and arduous for Emmy’s tiny body to fight off the infection. Things got worse before they got better.
“Her condition was quickly deteriorating, and she was hooked up to every tube and machine possible with a group of doctors and nurses watching over her. She had seizures on the table, which was terrifying to watch as a parent. We sat beside her for hours, held her little hand and just cried,” Bethany says about the traumatic experience.
“There was one point later on that evening, as we were waiting for a room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), that I was finally able to hold her again,” says Bethany.
“I thought it would be the last time I would ever hold her. I didn’t want to let her go.”
In addition to the seizures, the newborn also suffered small strokes caused by the meningitis infection.
While this situation alone is devastating, Bethany and Ryan were grappling with it during COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was hard going through it alone with limited help and support from friends and family due to COVID,” says Bethany. “No guests were allowed in the hospital, so we couldn’t have friends or family provide us with any relief.”
Seemingly simple things, like getting meals or running out for a quick breath of fresh air, were made more difficult as hospital restaurants were not fully operational due to the pandemic and screening tests were required every time you entered the hospital. The pair also juggled caring for their four-year-old daughter, Myla. To manage, Bethany and Ryan took alternating shifts, defaulted to ordering in food and found reprieve in the cafeteria’s open terrace, allowing them a chance each day to reset.
Both parents also found a huge support network in the hospital staff. From supplying the parents a parking pass from the Children Hospital Foundation’s patient comfort fund to make daily parking easier, to bringing in snacks and coffee and celebrating small wins together as Emmy got stronger, the hospital teams in PICU and on the ward answered the call of duty and then some.
“The hospital team was nothing short of incredible,” says Bethany. “It meant everything to have their support. They are miracle workers, and we have the utmost respect and admiration for everyone who works at the Children’s Hospital.”
While the reason why Emmy got meningitis will never be fully understood, she made it through and was able to go home after a month-long stay. She now sees a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and neurology team to support any impacts from the strokes she suffered. Because of the strokes, there is a risk of possible movement or posture problems, which would be considered a form of Cerebral Palsy. But the happy eleven-month-old is thriving and hitting all of her developmental milestones with no signs of the infection affecting her long term. She loves playing with her big sister, going for walks, jumping in her Jolly Jumper and getting tickled.
“We are so thankful for the incredible Children’s Hospital team members that helped us on this journey, and for everything they do on a daily basis for all of the families in their care,” says Bethany.
“We are reminded every day of how incredible they are when our little Emmy reaches a new milestone or flashes her beautiful smile. We have her in our lives because of them.”