Brave Cambridgeshire toddler survives killer disease three times in one year

Front L to R Nicola Norman. Martha Norman. Mitch Norman.
Front L to R Nicola Norman. Martha Norman. Mitch Norman.

A brave toddler has miraculously survived after being struck down by a deadly brain bug - three times in one year.

Martha Norman, three, first contracted bacterial meningitis last September and then again three months later at odds of 14 million-to-one - the same as winning the lottery.

She pulled through despite suffering a stroke, septicaemia, surgery and a medically induced coma.

But earlier this month she was rushed to hospital again and diagnosed with meningitis for the THIRD time.

Amazingly Martha took just two days to recover and was back at nursery less than a week after she fell ill.

Her parents Nicola and Mitchell are waiting to hear whether the third bout was the same potentially lethal 7F bacterial strain of the disease.

It has no sign of the tell-tale rash associated with the more manageable viral form.

But Nicola, 33, says “mothers’ instinct” told her meningitis had returned for a third time when her daughter fell sick suddenly.

The parents are urging others to watch out for signs of meningitis and take their children to hospital straight away as getting treatment quickly saved Martha’s life.

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can include fever, vomiting, headache and muscle pain.

Nicola said: “She is a tough little cookie. She doesn’t seem to let it get her down.

“She is a strong little girl. After a few days she was bouncing around again. She is a rare little girl, a miracle.

“Her recovery time got shorter and shorter each time so we do wonder if it is the same strain and she has built up some defences.

“But it will be a long road to get to the bottom of why she keeps getting it.”

She added: “I just want parents to really watch out for the signs and take their children to hospital straight away.

“People always think it won’t happen to their child. But it happened to us - three times.”

Martha first fell ill last September when she woke up ‘floppy’ and drowsy.

Her parents Nicola and Mitchell rushed her to A&E at Hinchingbrooke Hospital where doctors diagnosed meningitis.

Martha was immediately transferred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where she was put into a coma to help her body fight it off but ten days later suffered a stroke.

Doctors told her parents, from Chatteris, that she might not have survived if they had not got her to hospital so quickly.

After months of antibiotics, physiotherapy and a long hospital stay the family hoped the worst was behind them.

But in an extremely rare turn of events Martha contracted the same identical 7F strain for a second time in February.

Doctors put her on antibiotics immediately and kept her in hospital for a week.

On September 3 this year Martha started being sick in the early hours of the morning and had a temperature so the family took her to Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

Nicola told doctors she feared meningitis and they agreed to do a lumbar puncture straight away rather than waiting to see if Martha improved.

It confirmed she had meningitis again and Martha was kept in for two days before she was strong enough to be discharged and carry on receiving antibiotics at home.

Martha, who also deals with the difficulties of being born deaf, underwent surgery in April to seal her inner right ear.

Doctors believe the meningitis took hold as a result of cochlear implant operation she had when she was a year old.

Martha’s speech and walking have been affected by her three brushes with the disease and the family do not yet know if she will suffer any permanent brain damage.

Medics are continuing to carry out tests to find out if Martha had the same strain the third time and whether she is at risk of getting meningitis again.

The family had planned a holiday abroad next year, but are now staying close to the hospital in case Martha is struck down again.

Fork-lift truck driver Mitchell, 31 said: “To look at her now you’d never know what she has been through.”

About half of all cases of meningitis, both bacterial and viral, occur in children under the age of five.

Ten per cent of bacterial meningitis cases are fatal and around 15 per cent of people who contract the strain are left with severe physical difficulties.

Nicola and Mitchell, who have three other children, have set up the Little Treasures Charity to raise money for Meningitis Now and support for children with special needs.