When baby girl Ellena Sequerah-Salmon was diagnosed with meningitis at just six-weeks-old, little did her family know it was the best thing that could have happened.
For catching the potentially-fatal illness led doctors to discover a congenital heart defect that could have killed her in later life.
“Doctors said she was one of the first cases where the defect had been picked up at such a young age,” said Ellena’s mum Danielle.
“They said if it hadn’t been picked up she could have basically dropped dead in her teenage years, so in a weird way she was quite lucky to get meningitis.”
Now seven-year-old Ellena, of Wisbech Road, March, has taken part in the national Bad Hair Day organised by London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital to say thank you to the hospital for heart surgery which saved her life.
Ellena, who attends Burrowmoor Primary School in March, was born with heart valves in the wrong place.
Rather than two valves on each side, she had three on one side and one on the other.
Danielle explained that ultrasound scans had failed to detect any problems during pregnancy, and the defect also went undiagnosed at birth.
It was only when Ellena contracted viral meningitis at six-weeks-old, that doctors detected a heart murmur and ran tests.
Ellena’s family was told she would need heart reconstruction surgery to save her life, but she had to wait until she was big enough to undergo such a major operation.
The surgery finally went ahead at GOSH in 2013, when she was just four-years-old. But after two days recovering in intensive care, she suffered a stroke and stayed in hospital for a further 10 days.
The hospital warned Danielle and husband Ben, Ellena’s dad, that her recovery could take between eight and 12 weeks.
But their little fighter “bounced back” and was back at school after just six weeks.
“Before the operation Ellena would get really tired and sleep two to three times a day and her lips would sometimes turn blue,” said Danielle.
“But almost as soon as she recovered she had more colour in her cheeks and so much more energy. To look at her now you’d never know anything was wrong with her.”
“GOSH have been absolutely fantastic,” she added. “They supported us throughout Ellena’s treatment and gave us accommodation so we could be with her all the time. I just can’t fault them.”
Danielle also praised Ellena for “taking everything in her stride”. She doesn’t mind talking about what she’s been through or showing friends the operation scar on her chest, she said.
Ellena still has check-ups at GOSH, and will have to have keyhole surgery at some point in the future to stretch an artificial bridge in her heart.
But the lifesaving treatment given to Ellena is not the only reason Danielle and Ben are so thankful to GOSH for.
Their youngest daughter, Ellena’s three-year-old sister Ciarna, is also under the hospital’s care for the low blood sugar disease, hypoglycemia.
“We really are so grateful for everything the hospital has done for us and everything they continue to do,” said Danielle. “We wanted to say thanks and help other families in similar situations.”
Danielle helped organise the GOSH Bad Hair Day event at Burrowmoor Primary School earlier this month, and more than £360 was raised.
Staff and pupils paid £1 each to dress down for the day, and also style their hair as badly, and as colourfully, as possible.