26 April 2023

Walk challenge following son’s Christmas brain infection

Mum, Elizabeth Coombes, from Salisbury, found one of her sons unresponsive on Christmas morning. The next few days were a whirlwind while clinicians at Southampton Children’s Hospital performed surgery on his brain due to an infection.

“I live in Salisbury with my partner, Bob, and my children, Fraser, 16, and twins Molly and Lucas, 13.

On Christmas morning 2022 my eldest son, Fraser, was found unresponsive in bed by his father, Mark. That was the beginning of the worst few weeks of our lives.

Fraser was rushed to the Emergency Department at Salisbury District Hospital where the incredible Paediatric and Intensive Care teams took charge, immediately sedated him, and sent him for an MRI brain scan.

It revealed a sizeable abscess on the front of his brain, and a patch of further infection on the right side of his brain too.

Fraser in hospital due to brain infection
Fraser with family in hospital due to brain infection

Imagine being a parent and watching your son receiving treatment, having tubes stuck in him, and witnessing frenzied activity with words like ‘time critical’ while you stand by helpless. We had no idea what the day would have in store for us.

Fraser was immediately transferred by ambulance to the specialist neurological department at Southampton Children Hospital.

Upon arrival, he underwent several hours of emergency brain and ears, nose, throat (ENT) surgery whilst we sat in the parent’s room in complete shock.

It was Christmas Day and, like millions of other families, we were watching re-runs of Gavin and Stacey. The difference was, we didn’t know whether our son was going to even make it through surgery.

Thankfully Fraser made it out of surgery, and it went from being the worst Christmas Day ever to the best. He was alive, and that was enough.

That first week he did really well, and we thought he was ok.

Then suddenly he started to go downhill, and on 6 January ended up having further surgery to remove the remaining infection in his brain.

The following morning, he started to bounce back. It was a huge relief.

The surgeons and consultants at both hospitals were incredible. If the amazing Paediatric team at Salisbury hadn’t recognised the urgency, then he wouldn’t be here today.

Likewise, it’s down to the fantastic neurological team at Southampton for performing surgery twice, followed by three weeks of intense rehabilitation and care on the Children’s G2 Neurological Ward.

Both teams have described him as a miracle.

It was touch and go for a few days and he could just as easily have not made it through Christmas.

He wouldn’t be with us today without both hospital teams, and so we wanted to raise money for Southampton Hospitals Charity to support their ongoing work.

They provide much needed enhancement of equipment and facilities for other children who may be in the same situation, and those children and parents stuck in hospital for prolonged periods.

Our challenge: Walking from Salisbury to Southampton

On Sunday 10 September, some of our friends and I are walking from Salisbury Hospital to Southampton Hospital to raise funds for both hospital charities.

This will cover 26 miles which is a marathon! We’re all in our fifties with bad hips, knees, and other hindrances, so it will be a full-on challenge for us all.

I’m excited to take on this challenge with Craig Audley, Amanda Jones, Liesl Rodgers, Andy Willets, Alex Luck, Bob Christopher, and Jane Walker. These guys were amazing, and they got Fraser and I through the hardest times of our lives.

I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am to the medical teams and the wards for saving Fraser’s life, and for giving him such good care afterwards. They definitely worked a miracle in this case!

We still need to attend hospital for follow-up appointments, but Fraser is on the road to recovery, and for that I am so thankful.”

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