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Canterbury mum Michelle Keen whose baby son George, now three, beat meningitis twice as a baby relives her family's ordeal

To beat the potentially deadly infection meningitis twice before reaching the age of two months is an incredible feat.

And almost four years on, George Keen continues to be a little fighter.

But although the darkest days are behind them, his parents face fresh heartache as they continue to learn the extent of his disabilities.

The disease ravaged his tiny body, leaving him with brain damage and weak limbs. His bowels do not work properly and he is partially blind and deaf in one ear.

George Keen as a baby
George Keen as a baby

His problems with communicating mean he often becomes frustrated and lashes out, screaming, crying and hurting himself.

But although he is sometimes difficult to understand, Michelle uses her mother's instinct – an instinct which proved vital in saving his life when she claims she was initially fobbed off by medics.

George was a particularly precious arrival for Michelle, who had long-wished for a younger sibling for her son William, now 10.

After suffering a series of miscarriages, she was ecstatic to fall pregnant with George in 2010.

But her world fell apart when she started haemorrhaging at nine weeks and was told he had died in the womb.

Michelle Keen with her son George, now three
Michelle Keen with her son George, now three

A week later during a scan, the foetus was found to be perfectly healthy.

When he was delivered at the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, in November 2010, the couple breathed a sigh of relief.

Michelle said: "We were so used to all the things that can go wrong during pregnancy that once I went into labour we thought we were home and dry."

Even when George starting showing symptoms in the days that followed – including a plunging temperature and seizures – Michelle remained unfazed as hospital staff seemed so unconcerned.

She said: "They were probably just trying to keep me calm, but they didn't seem worried, so neither was I. I was quite naive."

Baby George was critically ill in hospital
Baby George was critically ill in hospital

The doctor then delivered the bombshell that George had contracted e.coli meningitis, but still it did not sink in.

"I think I was just stunned," Michelle said. "I didn't want to see him at first as I was afraid of getting attached if he was going to die.

"When I went into the special care baby unit, he was in a little glass pod.

"Days earlier I'd had a perfect baby, but now he was swollen up like a puffball and covered in wires."

It took three weeks for medics to nurse him back to health, and he was finally able to go home.

Baby George was in hospital for the first few months of his life
Baby George was in hospital for the first few months of his life

He was then a "normal, smiling, gurgling baby", but just 10 days later their nightmare began all over again.

George became restless, screamed constantly and turned a pale colour.

Frantic, Michelle took him to the minor injuries unit at Kent and Canterbury Hospital and then to the William Harvey.

After hours of waiting, she claims a doctor told her and husband Jarno, 34, that they had more chance of winning the lottery than George contracting meningitis for a second time.

"We got in the ambulance and George was put in a little plastic cot. It looked like a coffin. I was afraid to look at him because I feared the next time I saw him he would be in a wooden box..." - Michelle Keen

Reluctantly, they returned to their home in Shipman Avenue, Canterbury, and went to bed, but Michelle woke just hours later with serious concerns.

George was making wailing sounds "like a dying animal" and was sensitive to light – one of the warning signs of meningitis.

When she called the hospital, a nurse advised giving him Calpol, but when she later described the symptoms to a paediatrician, she was told to rush him back to the William Harvey as soon as possible.

They ran tests, including a lumbar puncture, before delivering the devastating diagnosis for a second time.

"My first thought was 'someone doesn't want me to have him'," Michelle said.

"I was in utter disbelief. It hit him harder the second time. He had more fits and went into a coma."

The couple were told George would most likely die, and were given the option of making him comfortable in his final hours or transferring him to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington for a last-ditch attempt at saving his life.

Michelle said: "We got in the ambulance and George was put in a little plastic cot. It looked like a coffin. I was afraid to look at him because I feared the next time I saw him he would be in a wooden box.

"I was sick several times and hyperventilated the whole way there, I was so panicked."

Tiny George was expected to be dead on arrival, but he clung on long enough to receive life-saving treatment.

The Kent and Canterbury Hospital
The Kent and Canterbury Hospital

He was eventually nursed back to health and allowed to return home a month later.

Michelle and Jarno will never know if the second bout of meningitis was connected to the first or just a cruel coincidence.

Although the ordeal is now behind them, they continue to live under the shadow of the disease. Michelle said: "The bigger he gets, the more determined he gets.

"But he is realising his limits and that just makes him frustrated. He can't have a conversation because of his hearing loss and developmental delay.

"There’s so much he wants to do. He falls over a lot and bumps his head. He bites himself and hits himself in the face in anger.

"We're learning more every day about what he can and can't do.

Little George still lives under the shadow of meningitis
Little George still lives under the shadow of meningitis

"When he gets frustrated he squeals like he is being murdered. Because of his bowel problems he’s quite often sick.

"When he is in his wheelchair, people are more understanding as they can see there's something wrong with him.

"But otherwise we get glares. People have shouted at us in the past and moved away from us in restaurants. It's quite a strain on the family.

"It's always in the back of our minds that it could have been worse and we're lucky to have him. We know a lot of people have lost children to meningitis.

"But we still mourn the child we feel we should have had.

"For 10 days we had a perfect baby, but then he got poorly. Now our lives will never be the same.

"George will be affected by this for the rest of his life. He will probably never have a job, a girlfriend, children or be able to live on his own.

"But he initially wasn't expected to survive. Maybe he will prove everyone wrong again."

For more information about meningitis and its symptoms, visit www.meningitis.org.

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