The Catholic Parish of
Saint John Henry Newman

 Covering most of East Leeds

At death's door after chickenpox

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Re-printed with kind permission from Jayne Dawson. Originally in the April 5th YEP
Jayne Dawson tells the story of a little boy who nearly died after he caught chickenpox, a childhood infection we think of as a mild illness

Looking back, Shelley Mardy remembers the most ironic words being spoken, unwittingly, by her family doctor.

Shelley had caught chickenpox, along with her children, Emily, two, and Callum, five, and her doctor sent her away from the surgery with a warning.

"He told me to come back if I started to feel very unwell because he had seen adults end up in hospital with chickenpox. It could be a much worse illness for adults than children, he said."

In the event, Shelley was fine and so was Emily, but Callum wasn't. He was the one who ended up in hospital, where he had to have his legs amputated, his skin stripped off to the waist and endure six gruelling months of skin grafts. No one was sure that he would survive.

In a spectacular example of bad luck, Callum's chickenpox, a routine childhood illness caught by almost every child, turned into something so rare it was like the opposite of winning the lottery.

His commonplace blisters became huge and inflamed and his legs started to turn blue to such an extent that at first Shelley thought the dye had run from her son's blue shorts.

"Callum had been fine but on the Friday he started complaining that his legs hurt. I looked and there were blue patches on them, which I thought had rubbed off his shorts, then I bathed his legs to soothe them and realised that the blue was inside his skin, it wasn't dye at all."

The five-year-old was beginning to suffer from a rare complication called purpura fulminans which was rapidly cutting off the blood supply to his legs.

Shelley, 36, only knew that something was going terribly wrong so she called NHS Direct, who sent an ambulance.

"At the hospital everything went haywire. There were so many people and Callum was hooked up to all sorts of machines. Steve had stayed at home with Emily but they said to call him in to the hospital. I asked if Callum was going to die and they said they could not say 'No' to me."

Callum was moved into intensive care where he became more and more gravely ill.

Shelley and Steve, 47, of East Leeds, could only watch in horror as over the next day he became blue from his torso to his feet as the blood supply to his lower body worsened. At the same time his internal organs were at risk of bleeding as his body fought what was happening.

By Sunday, desperate doctors decided to perform a fasciotomy, cutting into Callum's legs to relieve pressure and try to stop the tissue dying, but to no avail.

"Callum asked me if he was going to die. He was an IVF baby, we had waited seven years to have him and now it looked like we were going to lose him. We were told he probably wouldn't make it through the night."

But Callum did cling on to life during that Sunday night, though he was unconscious, and by Monday doctors had taken the decision to amputate his legs.

Shelley, 36, said: "I was screaming 'No' at first and Steve was just numb. He runs marathons and here he was being told his son would have to lose his legs but I realised it had to be and I just said 'please save my baby'."

Callum was in theatre for six hours during which time surgeons amputated his left leg above the knee and removed all the skin up to his waist, because it had died.

A week later he was back in theatre, without having recovered consciousness, to have his right leg amputated below the knee - surgeons had hoped to save it but failed.

Callum remained unconscious on a ventilator which breathed for him for almost a month. Steve and Shelley stayed at the hospital night and day sleeping, when they slept at all, on a sofa in a tea room across the landing from intensive care to be near their son while Shelley's parents looked after Emily. No-one yet knew if Callum would live.

But after almost four weeks he was taken off the ventilator and recovered consciousness.

"We didn't want him to look down and realise his legs had gone so I told him as soon as I could that his legs had made him really poorly and that they had had to be taken away, but that we would get him some magic legs."

It was then a race against time to cover Callum's open wounds with skin grafts taken from his back and chest - he was taken to theatre 35 times in all for grafts or dressing changes under anaesthetic.

"He coped really well, but sometimes he would have a frightened look on his face as the doctors approached him," said Shelley.

Steve and Shelley, who both worked for the prison service, were given six months off work and took it in turns to be at the hospital with Callum.

Finally, on December 17, 2004, six months after Callum went into hospital, he was allowed home, though he was still very weak and needed constant care .

"The first night home it was lovely for us all to be together. Callum asked if he could have some Potato Letters to eat and we cheered when he ate them because he had so little appetite.

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Published Fri 7th Apr 2006 07:34:44

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