Schoolgirl's 'cold symptoms' could have killed her

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·5-min read
Harri Tuson, now 13, was left fighting for life after contracting meningitis, first thought to be cold symptoms. (Caters)
Harri Tuson, now 13, was left fighting for life after contracting meningitis, first thought to be cold symptoms. (Caters)

A schoolgirl was left fighting for her life after her meningitis symptoms were mistaken for a virus or common cold.

In June last year, Harri Tuson, then 12, from Eltham, London, started suffering from a headache and runny rose but after a week things took a turn for the worst when her temperature soared and she started to shake.

Having visited A&E, Harri, now 13, was diagnosed with a virus and sent home, but later that night she was rushed back to hospital where she spent six days in an induced coma.

Her mum Toni Tuson, 38, is sharing her daughter's story to help raise awareness about the symptoms of the bacterial infection.

“Harri is very lucky to be alive," she says.

“At one point, she was so unstable doctors prepared me for the worst."

Read more: Mum-of-two loses both legs after mistaking symptoms of deadly infection for Covid

Harri spent six days in an induced coma after initially suffering from cold symptoms. (Caters)
Harri spent six days in an induced coma after initially suffering from cold symptoms. (Caters)

Having been rushed back to hospital in the early hours of the morning, Harri was put straight into an induced coma.

“A CT scan established it was a brain infection and they started antibiotics immediately," Tuson continues.

“We were then transferred to Kings College hospital in London for an MRI scan and she was diagnosed with meningitis.

“I was in shock as she didn’t have the symptoms I was familiar with – such as a non-blanching rash or sensitivity to light.”

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Doctors also discovered Harri had encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain – along with a collection of fluid.

"When we arrived at Kings Hospital we were told there was a high possibility she would need surgery to have pressure released from her brain," Tuson says.

“They said they would do everything possible to protect her brain but prepared us for the worst, saying some people don’t even wake up.

“Harri started off with a cold but the sinus infection migrated towards her brain and festered in her sinuses.

“That is how she ended up with bacterial meningitis.”

Harri had to use a wheelchair after contracting the infection. (Caters)
Harri had to use a wheelchair after contracting the infection. (Caters)

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On the fifth day in a coma, doctors tried to wake Harri up but her left lung collapsed and the right side of her body was paralysed.

Tuson describes the following day as "one of the hardest" of her life, revealing that her daughter woke up emotionless.

“I was happy that she was starting to wake up but it was the worst day," she explains.

“I was terrified as she was trying to scream but no noise was coming out.

“She wasn’t responding – I thought she was brain dead.

“She had no emotions and was unable to form a sentence.

“But thankfully, every day something more would move like her lips and eyes which gave us a little bit of hope.

“It took about three days for Harri to switch back on.”

Harri and her mum Toni Tuson. (Caters)
Harri and her mum Toni Tuson. (Caters)

The school girl spent three weeks in Kings College hospital, with nurses then coming to her home daily for the next six weeks to infuse her with antibiotics.

Harri used a wheelchair for eight weeks and had to learn how to walk again and rebuild her strength.

“I was worried in case she would struggle academically but she has managed to catch back up with school work after missing a term," Tuson says of her daughter's recovery.

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Harri, 13, had to learn how to walk again. (Caters)
Harri, 13, had to learn how to walk again. (Caters)

While her mother describes it as unlucky that Harri contracted the infection because it is so rare, the family feel thankful she survived without serious permanent damage.

“I am familiar with meningitis but her symptoms were so vague," Tuson says.

“I knew there was something wrong but I didn’t think it was meningitis as she didn’t have a non-blanching rash or sensitivity to light."

Thankfully the family say the schoolgirl is now on the road to recovery.

“Harri is doing super well," her mum continues. “But we are still in shock that it’s happened.”

Symptoms of meningitis

The NHS says meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

While it can affect anyone, the infection is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

If not treated quickly meningitis can be very serious and can cause life-threatening blood poisoning called septicaemia, which can result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

Symptoms of meningitis can develop suddenly and may include: a high temperature (fever), being sick, a headache, a stiff neck, a dislike of bright lights, drowsiness or unresponsiveness, a rash which does not fade when a glass is rolled over it.

The NHS points out that sufferers may not always get all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.

Additional reporting Caters.

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