Every parent’s nightmare is watching their tiny newborn battling a potentially killer disease.
But the anguish for dad Martin Richardson was trebled as he faced the trauma of having two young daughters and his wife in hospital at the same time.
While four-day-old Amelia was seriously ill with bacterial meningitis in the special care baby unit at Darent Valley Hospital, her sister, Harriet, then aged 18 months, was also suspected of having the disease, while mum Gemma had collapsed from severe anaemia as the desperate couple arrived at A&E.
“It was terrifying,” said 37-year-old Martin, who lives with his family in Forge Lane, Higham.
“I was with Amelia while Gemma was on another ward.
“We told doctors Harriet had been ill as well so I had to go and get her out of bed at my mother-in-law’s at 2am and take her to the hospital as well because they thought she may have meningitis.
“At one time all three were on three different wards, but thankfully we got the all-clear with Harriet and Gemma was also discharged after treatment.
“Amelia was still in special care though and at that stage we didn’t know if she was going to make it. It was horrendous.”
With the skill and dedication of the hospital’s medical team, Amelia, who was also born four weeks prematurely, won her fight for life and is now a healthy 10-month-old.
To say thank you, Martin and Gemma held a party in aid of Darent Valley’s Little Buds Fund.
“The doctors, nurses and staff were amazing and were even treating me on the special care baby unit so I could be with Amelia,” said Gemma, 30, who works as an estate agent with M&M Property Services in Gravesend.
For Martin, there was an added touch of emotion.
“I used to be a bricklayer and helped to build the hospital,” he explained. “But I never thought I’d have three of my family being treated there at one time.”
The couple’s ordeal started in July last year on a caravan holiday in Thanet.
Gemma was eight months pregnant and had to undergo an emergency caesarian when her placenta ruptured.
She said: “It was traumatic. With Harriet and her sister, Freya, I had two amazing pregnancies, two amazing births.”
Despite her early arrival on July 6, Amelia weighed a healthy 6lb 3oz and only had to spend two nights in hospital with her mum.
But the tot fell ill at four days old. “I knew she wasn’t quite right,” said Gemma. “She wasn’t feeding properly and was hot but I put it down to the weather.”
A routine visit from the midwife later that day led to Amelia being taken to hospital.
Matters soon took a turn for the worse. Gemma said: “I was still anaemic from Amelia’s birth and I wasn’t very well myself.”
“They were putting so much into her tiny body and, because the antibiotics were so aggressive, the consultant said he did not know what sort of a future she would have" - Gemma Richardson
While Gemma was being attended to, Amelia was examined by a doctor who, having taken her temperature, said she was fine and could go home.
However, another doctor noticed the tell-tale meningitis rash and Amelia was transferred to the special care baby unit.
Gemma said: “They were putting so much into her tiny body and, because the antibiotics were so aggressive, the consultant said he did not know what sort of a future she would have.”
Amelia spent five days on the critical unit and a further nine on the ward and still faces further tests to assess her recovery.
Martin, who works for John Lewis as a customer delivery trainer, said: “The meningitis could affect her hearing but she has passed her hearing tests.”
“She is also crawling and doing everything a 10-month-old should be and we are really confident she will continue to do well,” said Gemma.