Yorkshire mum speaks out after baby Alfie's deadly meningitis mistaken for chest infection

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Battling a deadly meningitis infection at just six week's old, Alfie Donnelly's family were warned to prepare for the worst.

There was a strong likelihood he wouldn't survive and, if he did, they were told that he would never be able to walk or talk.

Alfie Donnelly-Kelly from Todmorden, caught bacterial meningitis B when he was just six weeks old, his parents unsure if he would pull through. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Alfie Donnelly-Kelly from Todmorden, caught bacterial meningitis B when he was just six weeks old, his parents unsure if he would pull through. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Two years on, he is defying all expectations but, trailing in the wake of twin sister Lexie, it could be years before the extent of any brain damage is known.

His mother Shannon Kelly, sharing her story today for the first time, says she has been unable to talk about what happened until now.

But she is determined to raise awareness, so that other families can escape their pain.

For when Alfie had first started struggling, she says, it had been dismissed as a chest infection.

Alfie Donnelly was in intensive care for two weeks and, while he did survive, his family have to wait and see what the future will hold as the left side of his brain is damaged. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Alfie Donnelly was in intensive care for two weeks and, while he did survive, his family have to wait and see what the future will hold as the left side of his brain is damaged. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

'Not always a rash'

"I always thought meningitis was about a rash," says the 23-year-old, from Todmorden. "It's not always the case.

"It can so easily be mistaken for something it isn't. Then it's too late, and there's nothing that can be done about it."

Alfie and twin sister Lexie were born in August 2017, siblings to big brother Jenson, now aged five.

Alfie Donnelly-Kelly, pictured with mum Shannon Kelly and twin sister Lexie. Alfie caught bacterial meningitis B when he was just six weeks old, and his family were told he might not survive. Two years on, he is thriving, and Miss Kelly is raising money for charity to raise awareness and help others. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Alfie Donnelly-Kelly, pictured with mum Shannon Kelly and twin sister Lexie. Alfie caught bacterial meningitis B when he was just six weeks old, and his family were told he might not survive. Two years on, he is thriving, and Miss Kelly is raising money for charity to raise awareness and help others. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

At six-weeks-old, Alfie became unwell. Miss Kelly and Alfie's father David Donnelly, taking him to hospital, were told he had suspected bronchiolitis and sent home within 23 hours.

The next day, he started having seizures.

"Luckily my mum is a children's nurse, and she was here at the time," said Miss Kelly. "I don't know what we would have done without her.

"I knew something wasn't right, It just didn't seem right."

Alfie Donnelly-Kelly, who battled Meningitis B, pictured with mum Shannon Kelly. His mother, hoping to raise money for Meningitis Now and help other families, is to zip slide the Tyne Bridge next weekend. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Alfie Donnelly-Kelly, who battled Meningitis B, pictured with mum Shannon Kelly. His mother, hoping to raise money for Meningitis Now and help other families, is to zip slide the Tyne Bridge next weekend. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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Intensive care

Alfie was taken to paedeatric intensive care at Leeds General Infirmary, where he was diagnosed with meningitis B. He stayed in hospital for 16 days.

"I was absolutely terrified," said Miss Kelly. "It was horrible. And I was away from my other two children.

"We were told he wasn't going to make it. They said he would never walk, never sit up, never talk. He pulled through. He's proven everybody wrong."

At the family home in Todmorden, a converted barn, Alfie plays happily with his twin sister, sending toy cars down a spiral chute to crash at its base.

He is the affectionate one, says Miss Kelly, with Lexie always bossing him around.

Alfie will always face challenges, she adds, and there is a difference in development, made more evident alongside his twin.

"They've said the left side of his brain was damaged," said Miss Kelly. "They can't tell us to what extent, until he gets older.

"He's quite weak on his right hand side, using his left hand all the time.

"He has troubling listening as well. We thought it was his hearing at first, but it's his brain, struggling to process what we are saying.

"We're taking it one day at a time. I'm really happy with how he is, he's doing all the things they said he never would.

"We just have to take it as it comes. I'm hoping he has a bright future."

Campaign

Miss Kelly, preparing to fundraise for research and support, says a greater awareness is needed of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, and the impact it can have.

Her warning comes as research from Meningitis Now shows a decline in the number of babies getting vaccinated against Meningitis B between the ages of two to four months.

"It's really hard to recognise, and there's not enough awareness," said Miss Kelly. "The problem is in catching it early enough to stop it.

"Alfie seems like a normal child, but it is really difficult as we just don't know. I'm hoping he will be fine.

"A lot of people don't realise how serious it is. He's lucky not to have lost any limbs."

With grandfather David Kelly, 48, Miss Kelly is taking part in a sponsored event next Saturday, October 12, a zip slide from the Tyne Bridge, to support other families.

For more information, click here or search Shannon's campaign for Meningtitis Now on GoFundMe.