THE FATHER of a three-year-old boy who contracted a deadly strain of meningitis is warning parents to be constantly alert to the signs of the condition.
Kyle Nelson from Ballymacash Park was diagnosed with type B meningococcal septicaemia in March but has thankfully made a full recovery.
This week Kyle's friends at Pond Park Nursery held a music event to raise money for Meningitis Research. But grateful parents Gareth and Julie are urging all parents to be on the look out for the tell tale signs.
They first noticed Kyle was suffering from what seemed to be flu like symptoms when he came home from school on March 17.
He was not his normal, active chirpy self and started vomiting and complaining of feeling sick.
The following day, the concerned parents decided to keep him from school and asked the boy's grandmother to keep a close eye on him.
When they collected him from his gran's there was little change in him so when Julie noticed a rash they took him straight to their local GP.
"We just knew that there was something wrong when we saw the rash but we never suspected meningitis," said Gareth.
"We just thought we should just go and get him checked out anyway. What was the harm in that?"
The symptoms pointed to viral infection, but the doctor told them that if Kyle got worse to get him straight to the hospital.
Back home Kyle was kept downstairs where his parents could keep a watchful eye on him.
The following day, his condition remained the same. He continued to be sick, had a high temperature and complained of a sore head.
He had little energy and all he wanted to do was lie down.
When Gareth picked his son up to take him upstairs later that day he noticed a strange look in his eyes. lie told his wife and the pair began to panic. Julie noticed his temperature was rising and when Kyle's granny came round to have a look at him the boy was unresponsive and unable to turn his head around.
It was now 11pm and the panic bells were ringing as the parents took him straight to the Lagan Valley Hospital.
He was taken straight away and when the doctor on duty saw him Julie and Gareth recognised the urgency in his voice.
He gave them a letter and told them to take Kyle straight to the Royal where he would get specialised treatment for his condition.
There he was again seen straightaway and within ten minutes he was on a drip as the medics searched his body for a rash.
The parents were later told his condition had began with a viral infection, which was noted when a rash appeared. A rash of red dots would have indicated meningitis.
Though doctors were still unsure if Kyle was suffering from meningitis, he was showing more signs which pointed that way.
"When the medical staff asked Kyle to move his neck from side to side he was struggling," said his father.
"Before he was even diagnosed with the condition he was receiving treatment for it. At this stage they only suspected that he had meningitis."
Julie and Gareth maintained a bedside vigil as the youngster underwent brain scans and blood tests.
He was taken to a specialised ward in isolation while he was given medication for meningitis. He was checked every 15 minutes as his temperature still fluctuated.
"You can imagine Julie and I were devastated but we still really did not know what was happening," said Gareth. "We were panicking but we knew that he was in the right place and the doctors and nurse were doing everything for him.
On Sunday a lumber puncture was taken to determine for sure if it was meningitis.
While they waited for the results, Gareth returned home to get showered and changed. It was while he was home that he got a call from his wife at the hospital confirming the diagnosis.
"We were stunned," said Gareth. "We just could not take it in. We didn't know how to feel, how he got it or anything. It was real shock but at the same time we were glad the cause had been found.
When Gareth returned to the hospital he and his wife were also treated for meningitis.
They were told the next 24 to 48 hours would be crucial for Kyle and he was given 15 minute checks. But as his condition improved slightly the checks became 30 minutes apart and then one-hour.
"Kyle had no idea what was happening," said Gareth. "He would talk a few words but was totally exhausted and really did not know what was going on."
As his condition improved Kyle was able to sit up in bed and within a week was allowed up. Then on Easter Sunday he was well enough to be allowed. home for a few hours.
He returned to hospital that day but was allowed out three days later.
He was still not well enough to go back to school and it was a further two weeks before that happened. Gareth said that he would like to warn parents that time is of the essence in cases like Kyles.
He said that if you suspect your child of having meningitis then take them straight to their doctor or hospital straight away.
"Don't be afraid, it could be a matter of life and death," said Gareth. "We were lucky we still have Kyle but he was a very ill little boy. It could have been a very different story.
"A parent knows themselves when a child is seriously ill. Don't feel that you are being paranoid, just take them to the doctor or hospital.
"In situations like ours, time is of the essence. Our doctor knew the seriousness of the situation. Meningitis can be hard to detect and the doctor noticed that Kyle was suffering from what seemed like a viral infection. He told us that if it got worse to take him straight to the hospital. It was good advice and we took it."
Gareth and wife Julie went to the Music event at Pond Park Nursery on Tuesday, which raised money for Meningitis Research.
"We are very grateful to the school for doing this for the charity," he said.
"We never believed that it was meningitis and you never believe that it is going to happen to you or your child. We just look upon ourselves as being one of the lucky ones."