Leeds family's heartache after seven-week-old baby's meningitis death

Abbigayle Birch had no reason to be concerned about her seven-week-old baby daughter  Florence's health and remains frustrated that there were no warning signs until it was too late.

Florence's proud grandparents Karl and Samantha Birch of Leeds had hoped to spend an enjoyable Saturday morning with their daughter and the "perfect" baby grandaughter they had instantly fallen in love with.

Mr Birch, 49, of Yeadon, was especially looking forward to the visit as work commitments as a housing developer site manager meant he had missed out on visits to see Abbigayle, 23, and Florence at their home in nearby Idle, Bradford.

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Mr and Mrs Birch travelled to the home Abbigayle shares with partner and Florence's dad Connor Riley at around 10.30am on Saturday October 20 2018.

Karl Birch and sister Angela Cooper at the Ride London bike ride for Meningitis Now in August 2019

Abbigayle Birch told her parents that Florence had been sleepy and a bit grumpy.

Florence refused food when the couple tried to feed her and they noticed her skin appeared pale and grey.

A decision was made to take Florence to Bradford Royal Infirmary at 11am that morning.

Doctors examined Florence in an emergency room, before telling the family the dreaded news that she was suffering from meningitis.

Baby Florence Riley Photo: Mark Swinford Photography, Horsforth.

The disease rapidly took hold of Forence's body and she was transfered to Sheffield Children's Hospital in the afternoon.

At around 7pm, doctors told the family they would have to amputate all four limbs to give Florence any chance of survival.

The family were still trying to process that devastating news when they learned Florence would not survive.

The decision was made to stop medical intervention and Florence, who was also suffering from sepsis, died at 11pm that night.

The Birch family: Pictured (Front row left to right) Abbigayle Birch, Karl Birch and Abbigayle's twin sister Kymberley. (Back left to right) Abbigayle's brother Ryan. Photo: Mark Swinford Photography, Horsforth.

Florence's mother Abbigayle Birch said: "It still frustrates me now when I think she was fine when she went to bed on the Friday night.

"She was absoloutely fine, completely normal. There was no warning and no reason to suspect there was anything wrong until it was too late.

"She didn't even have a rash or anything until it was to late. Never in a million years did I expect it to end the way it did."

Mr Birch, 49, said they had taken Florence to accident and emergency at Bradford Royal Infirmary, where she was assessed.

Baby Florence pictured with mum Abbigayle Birch and dad Connor Riley. Photo: Mark Swinford Photography, Horsforth.

He said: "They came to us and said she has got meningitis. We were allowed in and out of the emergency room to see her over the next few hours.

"Her body just kept changing. The meningitis was taking over her whole body. Whatever the doctors did, it fought against her.

"The illness just got worse and worse every half an hour. Her skin became blotchy and there were blue and mottled grey blotches all over her body."

"It was horrific and so distressing because we just couldn't do anything for her.

"We had seen the vicar at the hosptal and we decided we would get Florence christened while we could."

Mr Birch said Florence was taken to Sheffield Children's Hospital by ambulance at around 4pm.

Mr Birch said: " Abbigayle and Connor went to see the specialst in charge and I could just here screaming.

"We then sat down and Abbigayle and Connor gave us the news that Florence had deteriorated so much that the only way she could stand a chance of survival was by having all four limbs amputated.

"We were trying to get our heads round that when, within half an hour, the specialist came back in again and said that he had looked at the brain scan that Florence had had earlier just before she had left Bradford Royal Infirmary.

"He discovered that the only part of Florence’s brain that was still alive was the area that was keeping her breathing. This was due to Sepsis.

"The disease just took over her body and it couldn't fight it. The choice then was to try more medical intervention and postpone it for a few more hours, or stop and just let her go.

"By 11pm that night she passed away."

"Within 12 hours that's what we had been through. It was horrendous. We just had to comfort each other.

"She was a perfect child, absolutely perfect."

"When you have children you are given leaflets on numerous childhood illnesses, and you think you have all you need to know.

"Florence didn’t show any of the common signs and symptoms that you’re told about.”

"You read these facts that you know you have got it it because you see blotching, but we didn't see any of it until it hit her.

"She just looked tired and slightly off colour, as if she was a bit poorly and a bit run down.

"People need to be made more aware of Meningitis group B with Sepsis."

Mr Birch and his sister Angela Cooper, 55, of Guiseley, completed the Prudential Ride London 100 mile bike ride in August 2019 to raise cash for charity Meningitis Now.

They raised more than £2,200 for he charity and are urging others to help if they can.

Mr Birch said: “To this day I still have a lump in my throat when I stop and think about Florence.

"I also still feel very proud of the achievement of completing Ride London and of the money we raised for charity to try and help others.

“I would do it all again and I would advise anyone that has been affected by anything like this to go for it – it really is a fantastic day and all the cycling really helps your mind."

Meningitis Now’s events fundraising manager Kirsty Owen-Hayward said the charity's other fundraisers include the London 10k or our Three Peaks Challenge.

She said: “For anyone who prefers to organise their own events we’ve got lots of ideas on our website to get you started.

“Whatever you choose though you should know that any money raised will be used to help people living with the impact of meningitis, to raise awareness about signs and symptoms and to help fund research so that we can help beat this awful disease.

“This is why we are so grateful to people like Karl who knows only too well how devastating meningitis can be."

Florence's mum Miss Birch is set to raise funds for Meningitis Now by taking part in the Great North Run in September.

Her brother Ryan Birch is taking part in the run to and raise funds for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital

Miss Birch said "On my daughters birthday (August 30) we went to her grave and we took a cake and had a picnic.

"It was nice just to celebrate and try and recall the happy times instead of crying all day."

For more information, go to https://www.meningitisnow.org/support-us/fundraising/