Preston veteran's fitness challenge in aid of baby with meningitis

A mysterious illness that doctors put down to normal newborn behaviour left her fighting for her life just a few days later.
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Fortunately, her mum's insistence that something was wrong meant Preston baby Romany Hopkins was able to have life-saving treatment for what turned out to be meningitis, and make it to her first birthday last Friday.

Now Preston veteran Kevin Webster will attempt 1,000 burpees and 1,000 press-ups on his 50th birthday on Saturday, July 25, to raise money for a special holiday for Romany's family.

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Describing the pain of seeing her newborn baby battle meningitis, 25-year-old mum Demi Bamber said: "I can't put into words what it's like to fear you'll lose your child. I was broken. It was so horrible.

Romany Hopkins celebrating her first birthday. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard.Romany Hopkins celebrating her first birthday. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard.
Romany Hopkins celebrating her first birthday. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard.

"No baby should have to go through it."

The mum-of-four says her daughter was "perfect" on the day she was born. But when the pair returned home, Romany suddenly began screaming in pain.

"She wouldn't take her bottle and if you touched her, she'd jump," Demi added.

"I rang the hospital for two days but they said it was normal for a newborn. I have three more children so I knew it wasn't normal."

Preston veteran Kevin Webster willattempt 1,000 burpees and 1,000 press-ups on his 50th birthday on Saturday, July 25, to raise money for a baby with meningitis.Preston veteran Kevin Webster willattempt 1,000 burpees and 1,000 press-ups on his 50th birthday on Saturday, July 25, to raise money for a baby with meningitis.
Preston veteran Kevin Webster willattempt 1,000 burpees and 1,000 press-ups on his 50th birthday on Saturday, July 25, to raise money for a baby with meningitis.
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In fact, her worst fears came true when a midwife visited and saw that Romany was yellow and vomiting. She was rushed to Royal Preston Hospital where she spent three weeks, was put straight into critical care for 48 hours and given three lots of antibiotics.

An ultrasound and MRI scan finally offered the family some answers when it showed fluid and scarring on Romany's brain, and she was diagnosed with group B streptococcal meningitis (GBS) disease. It is the main cause of meningitis in babies.

"Her infection level was 310. Doctors said they had never seen those levels in anyone before and that she was lucky to be alive," said Demi.

In December, her daughter had surgery for hydrocephalus - a build-up of fluid in the brain, which can be fatal if left untreated - at Manchester Children's Hospital. She will now have the operation every four years until she is 16, when she will then have it every decade.

Romany Hopkins, who has meningitis, with her mum Demi Bamber on her first birthday.Romany Hopkins, who has meningitis, with her mum Demi Bamber on her first birthday.
Romany Hopkins, who has meningitis, with her mum Demi Bamber on her first birthday.
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"My partner passed out when Romany went for surgery and I didn't leave the hospital once. It was a lot of pain and it's not actually stopped. The device that's been put in her brain [a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt] to relieve pressure on it could stop working. She could need another operation at any time," Demi said.

The infant also wears a patch on her left eye, which has turned inwards due to nerve damage. Romany will require additional surgery to correct it when she is four or five-years-old.

Demi also discovered three weeks ago that the scarring has stretched but medics do not yet know how much brain damage this could cause.

"They don't know if she had a stroke in my womb because she struggles to move the left side of her body," she said.

Kevin found out about Romany's ordeal when he donated money to Top Cafe on Ribbleton Lane, which provides school meals and subsidised Sunday dinners tovulnerable people.Kevin found out about Romany's ordeal when he donated money to Top Cafe on Ribbleton Lane, which provides school meals and subsidised Sunday dinners tovulnerable people.
Kevin found out about Romany's ordeal when he donated money to Top Cafe on Ribbleton Lane, which provides school meals and subsidised Sunday dinners tovulnerable people.
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"She can't move her left leg properly or crawl yet. But it's just going to take time and encouragement. I'm just happy she's here."

Demi says she was was not given a streptococcus pneumoniae vaccine at Royal Preston Hospital during her pregnancy, and believes that is why Romany developed meningitis.

"I didn't know the symptoms at the time and not everyone has any. I had bad stomach pain and could hardly walk but the hospital told me it was just because she was pushing down on me," she added.

A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "NHS Hospitals do not offer the streptococcus pneumoniae vaccine routinely during pregnancy. We’d be very happy to talk to the family about this or any concerns they may have about their care."

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Romany's diagnosis, however, isn't the only heartache the family has faced, with Demi adding: "It's been a difficult year. My mum-in-law developed Covid-19, was in intensive care and had a stroke. She came home last fortnight after 10 weeks.

"We also found out just after Romany was born that my father-in-law has Alzheimer's.

"It's all been a whirlwind."

But now Kevin's fund-raiser will give the family something positive to focus on.

The former soldier first found out about them when he donated money to Top Cafe in Ribbleton Lane, which provides school meals and subsidised Sunday dinners to people living alone and struggling families, including Romany's.

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Kevin said: "My gesture was only small but I received a lovely message from Demi. Their thanks was touching and it stuck in my head how grateful they were."

He began training for the challenge around 10 weeks ago to raise money for a family day out. But when he reached £1,000, he increased his target to £2,500.

Commenting on the support he's received from the community, he added: "It's fantastic. When lots of people are donating, it's quite special. People are really pulling together."

And for Demi and her partner Brian Hopkins, it means the world.

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Kevin, who received a message of thanks from Brian, added: "It was quite emotional. It means everything to me to get a message from Brian. You don't always appreciate how much it could mean to someone. The fund-raiser is going to be tough but well worth it."

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