THE family of a five-month-old baby have spoken of their heartbreak at his death just hours after becoming ill with meningitis.
Duke William Barton, of Church Road, Leyland, died with parents Rebecca Smith and Mark Barton at his bedside, after meningococcal septicaemia poisoned his tiny body.
Now, in memory of their “perfect angel”, they are determined to raise funds for Manchester Children’s Hospital, as well as awareness of the disease for other parents.
They are also backing a campaign by the Meningitis Research Foundation which says children are needlessly dying and being maimed while the Government argues over the cost of a vaccine.
Just 16 hours after he developed a temperature, little Duke Barton’s family were left devastated by his death from meningitis.
The five-and-a-half-month-old had been a healthy and happy baby boy until meningococcal septicaemia unexpectedly took a grip, and his condition rapidly deteriorated as doctors in Preston and Manchester battled to save him.
Paula Barton, Duke’s aunt, said: “I knew meningitis was serious, but nobody expected him to die.
“It was all so sudden, from the start of everything to him dying was 16 hours.”
She added: “He was the happiest little boy ever, he was an angel. He had a big sister called Amelia, who will be three next month, and they were a lovely, complete little family.
“He had a bit of colic at first, but he was never a poorly boy.”
On the evening of Saturday, February 28, Duke developed a high temperature and mum Rebecca Smith, 21, noticed he’d started to become unwell.
Paula said: “Rebecca thought it was just a normal bug at first, then she spotted a rash so called me over to have a look.
“Instinct kicked in. I knew it was serious and he needed an ambulance, so I got straight on the phone.”
Duke was rushed to the Royal Preston Hospital where doctors said his condition was critical and he was placed on a life support machine.
As his condition deteriorated, he was transferred to Manchester Children’s Hospital where medics battled to save him, but he died the next morning.
“Everyone is devastated, but we’re numb and I don’t think it’s properly sunk in yet”, said Paula. “It’s affected everyone.”
A family friend set up a fundraising site to help pay for funeral costs, but after exceeding the £500 expectation, the family is now looking to make a donation to the Manchester Children’s Hosptial.
Paula added: “We also want to raise awareness of menigitis so nobody else has to go through this.”
A vaccine against Meningococcal B bacteria (MenB) - the leading cause of life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia in the UK - was recommended a year ago by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation to be routinely given to children in the UK.
But a debate over the cost means there are no signs it will become part of childhood immunisation programme anytime soon.
The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) has warned that every day that goes by without the vaccine, two children will die or suffer life-changing injuries as a result of the disease. and has launched a #WheresOurVaccine campaign.
Chris Head, chief executive officer of MRF, said: “Our hearts go out to the Smith and Barton families for the sudden and tragic loss of their baby son Duke.
“As they are sadly aware, meningitis and septicaemia are deadly diseases which can strike without warning, killing in hours. We have invested in dozens of research projects to develop vaccines to prevent the disease in the first place, and we are currently campaigning for the introduction of a new MenB vaccine with our #WheresOurVaccine campaign.
“Stories like Duke’s make it impossible to understand why the Government is dragging its feet in making this vaccine free for all our children by getting it into the NHS immunisation plan.”
Paula said: “We think it’s important that the Government act on this recommendation and as much is done as possible to stop this awful disease.”
A Department of Health spokesman said it wanted to see the vaccine introduced “as soon as possible”, but tha the JCVI recommended it had to be at a cost-effective price.
The spokesman said: “We need to make sure NHS funds are used effectively and negotiations are continuing.”
To donate to the Manchester Children’s Hospital in memory of Duke, visit: www.gofundme.com/BabyDukey. To find out more about the MRF campaign, visit: www.meningitis.org/wheres-our-vaccine