Terrified parents feared “secret” chest infection – cases of which are forecast to double this year because of Covid – had killed their baby boy

·7-min read

A high-flying couple relived the terrifying moment when they feared a “secret” chest infection affecting 90 per cent of under twos – with cases forecast to double this year because of Covid – had killed their baby boy.

Matt and Maira Connelly, both 41, told how they believed their youngest son, Arran, then aged 50 weeks, simply had a chesty cold, until they noticed his abnormal breathing by chance and sought help.

Calling the NHS non-emergency number 111, company director Matt and research scientist Maira, of Penicuik near Edinburgh, Scotland, who have another son, Euan, seven, soon found Arran being rushed by ambulance to the nearest children’s hospital.

Matt said: “It was only when I got into the ambulance with him and was chatting to the paramedic on the journey that I realised he was prepping me for it being really serious and that’s when I began to worry.”

When Arran started wheezing and was clearly congested, his parents thought it was “just another baby cold.”

Then, one night at 11pm, when Matt checked him and he felt hot and bothered after having trouble sleeping and “thrashing around,” he lifted him out of bed to take him downstairs for a change of scene and to cool down.

Arran was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (Collect/PA Real Life).
Arran was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (Collect/PA Real Life).

He said: “As soon as I took him out of the dark bedroom and into the light, I realised his breathing wasn’t right.

“Maira and I decided to call 111 for some advice, just in case anything more was wrong, but we weren’t really worried at that point.

“His breathing was very shallow and really rapid, but I still thought he was just a bit ill.”

He added: “It was after that when it got scary.

“The 111 call handler asked us a number of questions, but it was his breathing they were worried about.

“We were asked to count his breaths per minute, which was over 100, roughly two a second ,so they said they’d send an ambulance to have a look at him.”

Even when paramedics arrived and said they wanted to take him to The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, the couple felt it sounded “like a precaution,” so Maira stayed behind with Euan while Matt went in the ambulance with baby Arran.

But, as the ambulance began its journey, the paramedic seemed to be preparing Matt for worse to come.

He said: “When we got to the hospital, they were really good. They took Arran’s pulse and checked his breathing.”

He added: “They gave him oxygen, as his levels were really low, and sucked a huge amount of blood and mucus out of his head, which he really hated.

“They got about 150ml of gunge out of his head and then took him for a chest X-ray.

“He had to be monitored overnight so, as there were no beds in the high dependency unit, they put him in intensive care.”

Aarran is now fit and healthy but the family are warning other parents of the signs of respiratory syncytial virus (Collect/PA Real Life).
Aarran is now fit and healthy but the family are warning other parents of the signs of respiratory syncytial virus (Collect/PA Real Life).

He added: “And, luckily, after all they did, he fell asleep.”

But, after all the drama, then came a terrifying moment when Matt thought he had lost his son for good.

He said: “A pulse oximeter device, used to monitor oxygen levels and heart beat, was left clipped on to his finger.”

He added: “Suddenly, he fell asleep, his hand dropped down and the device fell off without me realising, which made the heart beat flatline on the screen,

“For a terrifying five second period, I thought he was dead!

“But, luckily, a nurse came in, tutted, and put it back on and I realised everything was all right.”

Arran was rushed to hospital after his breathing became abnormal (Collect/PA Real Life).
Arran was rushed to hospital after his breathing became abnormal (Collect/PA Real Life).

Matt stayed overnight with Arran, before swapping with Maira.

And when he saw his son in the morning, despite still being “covered in tubes” he was delighted to see him standing up in bed.

He said: “After a night on oxygen, he had clearly recovered.”

When the tests results came back that day, they revealed that as well as rhinovirus – which is basically a cold – and parainfluenza, Arran had respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). He also had bronchiolitis – a lower respiratory tract infection common in young children – as a result of the RSV.

Matt said: “We’d never heard of RSV, but when I Googled it afterwards, I discovered something like 90 per cent of children have had it by the age of two and 10 per cent of them require medical care, which must be hundreds of thousands of kids every year.

“I really don’t understand why we’d never heard of it before.”

Arran is now fit and healthy thanks to the work of the amazing NHS staff (Collect/PA Real Life).
Arran is now fit and healthy thanks to the work of the amazing NHS staff (Collect/PA Real Life).

Now a happy, healthy four-year-old, Arran has not suffered any repercussions since his hospital stay.

But with experts at the Academy of Medical Sciences predicting that RSV cases could double this year – potentially overlapping with surges of Covid-19 and flu – his parents are keen to raise awareness of the virus.

Matt, who will never forget that fateful night in May 2018 when he feared he had lost his little boy, said: “He’s been a very robust little chap ever since, but he definitely needed medical assistance back then.”

He added: “His condition was acute and I definitely don’t think he would have been OK without going to hospital.

“RSV must not remain a silent condition. Parents need to be made more aware of it, as it can become very serious.

“It was Arran’s breathing when we saw him in the light that night that made us call 111.”

He added: “It is an excellent service and they really prioritise young kids, so I would always advise parents to call them if they are worried.

“After calling them, we really didn’t have to do anything. The NHS stepped in and took excellent care of us.”

Now, with cases of RSV forecast to as much as double this year, experts are keen to alert parents to the symptoms, advising them to seek help if they spot any concerning signs.

Arran became poorly at 50 weeks old (Collect/PA Real Life).
Arran became poorly at 50 weeks old (Collect/PA Real Life).

Professor Harish Nair, Chair of Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Global Health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “One of the indirect effects of Covid- 19 related restrictions has been that other respiratory viruses like RSV completely disappeared for about 15 months.

“This means there are children and babies who have never been exposed to RSV or have very little immunity against the virus.

“What we are seeing in the UK is large out-of-season epidemics which can be more prolonged than the normal RSV winter season. The increase in RSV cases coupled with the ongoing Covid -19 pandemic has the potential to severely stress the NHS.”

Meanwhile, the RSV Patient Network is keen to educate parents about the condition.

Les Kriek, spokesperson for the network, said: “Educating about RSV will also help parents to feel more reassured in an already stressful situation.

“As RSV cases rise against the backdrop of a pandemic, never has the need for education about RSV and the respiratory illnesses it causes been more important.”

* Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur UK has launched an informative website about RSV which can be found at www.togetheragainstRSV.com/uk.

* For the latest NHS guidance on all respiratory tract infections, visit: www.nhs.uk/conditions/respiratory-tract-infection/

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