Parents' pain over meningitis tragedy

GRIEVING parents who were rocked by the death of their nine-month-old son to meningitis today told of their “heartbreaking” ordeal for the first time.

GRIEVING parents who were rocked by the death of their nine-month-old son to meningitis today told of their “heartbreaking” ordeal for the first time.

Taylor Westley-Smith was struck down by the killer brain bug in March, dying just 15 hours after displaying the first signs of being ill.

Now, his parents, Mark and Jennifer Smith, of Gostling Place, Kesgrave, have embarked on a fundraising mission in his memory to help eradicate the devastating disease.

They are organising a string of events with the hope of raising thousands of pounds for Meningitis UK.

The charity funds lifesaving research into finding a vaccine for Meningitis B - the strain which tragically took Taylor's life on March 15.

Mrs Smith, 29, said the speed at which the illness took hold had made losing her baby even harder to come to terms with.

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“His death was such a shock,” she said.

“From thinking he had chicken pox to finding him dead within a matter of minutes is hard to come to terms with.”

Taylor had been happily watching football with his dad the previous day, with Mr Smith trying to teach him the words to Liverpool songs.

Mr Smith said: “After the game we put him down for a nap.

“When he woke up he wasn't his normal self and didn't take his bottle, which was very rare as he was a hungry baby.

“We called NHS Direct who advised us to take him to the doctors, who told us he probably had some sort of gastro bug.

“Taylor had a high temperature and a very faint rash on his face but the doctor wasn't too concerned, saying it could have been a number of things - like teething or a heat rash.”

The couple took him home, keeping a close eye on the tot and ensuring he had plenty of water and Calpol.

But at 2am the following morning they were woken up by his baby monitor.

A few red spots had appeared on his face and neck but because Taylor had been in contact with a baby who had chicken pox a few days beforehand, they suspected he had contracted the illness.

Mr Smith, 30, said: “We called NHS Direct again who advised us to carry on what we were doing and that a doctor would be in touch within four hours.

“A doctor called at 5am. We explained the symptoms again only to be told chicken pox spots didn't come out until a week after being in contact with someone who had it.

“We rushed into his room to find out we were too late. Our beautiful little boy had already gone.”

He says he still has flashbacks of carrying Taylor down the stairs and trying to revive him while they waited for the ambulance.

But his attempts to save the couple's only child were in vein and Taylor died from meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia.

Have you been affected by meningitis? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

MARK and Jennifer Smith said that the speed at which the disease took Taylor's life had made them realise how important it was to find a vaccine and protect future generations.

“Hopefully our efforts will take Meningitis UK one step closer to finding a vaccine,” said Mrs Smith.

“It really is such a devastating disease and we don't want Taylor's death to be in vain.

“If meningitis can be eradicated then, one day, people won't have to go through the heartache we've endured.”

All the money raised will go towards Meningitis UK's Search 4 a Vaccine campaign.

It aims to raise �7 million to fund vital research into developing a vaccine against Meningitis B - the most common form of meningitis in the UK. This accounts for almost 90 per cent of all cases, including the strain which killed Taylor.

The couple have already raised more than �3,200 and with seven new events being organised, they hope to raise thousands more.

Steve Dayman, who founded Meningitis UK after his son Spencer died from the disease, said: “Everyone's efforts in memory of Taylor are really remarkable.

“What happened to Taylor sadly illustrates the speed at which meningitis can strike, with very few symptoms to distinguish the disease from more common illnesses.”

The first event is a Caribbean night at the Cherry Tree Pub in Bromeswell, on July, 18. There will be a barbeque, rum punch, a steel band and other fun activities. The evening begins at 8pm and fancy dress is optional.

To make a donation to the Forever Fund set up in Taylor's memory, visit www.meningitisuk.tributefunds.com and search for Taylor Deakin Westley-Smith.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord.

Meningococcal septicaemia occurs when poisons caused by the meningococcal bacteria enter the blood stream.

Classic symptoms of the disease are a headache, stiff neck, a dislike of bright lights, difficulty supporting own weight, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and confusion and drowsiness.

Common symptoms of meningococcal septicaemia include aching limbs, cold hands and feet and a rash which starts like pin prick marks and develop rapidly into purple bruising.

It is a notoriously difficult disease to diagnose and can kill in under four hours.