Ashleigh Ellis, customer support executive at Travel Republic, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Former Travel Weekly Cover Star Ashleigh Ellis woke up one day to find her young son with a soaring temperature and his skin peeling off. A few days later, he was given a 25% chance of survival.
Here, she reflects on her family’s traumatic experience.
What happened to the son of former Travel Weekly Cover Star Ashleigh Ellis is every parent’s nightmare.
In March, the Travel Republic customer support executive’s six-year-old son Declan woke up covered in a rash. His eyes were itchy and burning, his temperature was 41C and his skin was peeling off.
Ashleigh knew it must be serious – only five hours earlier, he had been in her bed and had been fit and well.“In the morning, he wasn’t moving and he was in such a lot of pain,” recalls Ashleigh, who called an ambulance rather than wait for a GP appointment.
Her instincts proved right.
While paramedics thought he had chicken pox and the doctors at the hospital initially treated him for meningitis, it turned out Declan had something far rarer.
Fewer than one in a million people suffer the potentially fatal skin condition known as toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), an allergic reaction, usually to medication. It can cause the body to blister as it burns from the inside out, and particularly affects the eyes and genitals.
Declan had taken the common antibiotic amoxicillin, a type of penicillin, for tonsillitis, three weeks earlier.After a night in the local hospital in Carshalton, Surrey, where he was put on a ventilator because he couldn’t breathe,
Declan was air-lifted to Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, where he spent the next three-and-a-half weeks. He lost 96% of his skin, and his hair and nails fell out.
“When Declan first arrived, his chances of surviving were 50:50 and after a few days it was down to 20%-30%, as his organs were shutting down,” recalls Ashleigh, whose fiancé Andy, Declan’s dad, also works at Travel Republic.
“The support we got from Travel Republic was incredible, they have followed our progress and raised money,” says Ashleigh.
As a casual member of staff, Ashleigh was not paid for the time she took off work to be with her son, but she says funds raised by colleagues helped the family get by.
Declan was then transferred to London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s burns unit, before being allowed back home.
Ashleigh says: “His skin was still broken and bleeding, and he had to have three operations on his eyes. His corneas are damaged and the backs of the eyes are still inflamed; he can’t see out of one.”
Declan, now seven, is back at school. But he is on three kinds of steroid, has to take eye drops every half an hour, wears protective dark glasses and has regular blood tests and eye check-ups.
The lining of his eyelids remain damaged, while his eyelashes grow inwards and have to be plucked out.Declan also faces further operations on his eyes and plastic surgery.
“He doesn’t complain at all and he is always smiling and happy,” says Ashleigh, who believes that Declan’s positive and calm outlook is key to helping them cope, as well as getting back to normal life.
She adds: “We are just so grateful for everything we have got. At the beginning, we broke down so many times, but usually when we were alone.
“Now I just want to raise awareness of TEN.”
Toxic epidermal necrolysis: The symptoms:
• Often begins with a fever, headache, cough and body aches
• A red rash breaks out on the face and trunk, often spreading to the entire body in an irregular pattern
• Areas of the rash enlarge and form blisters that are easy to rub off
• Blisters break out on the mucous membrane lining in the mouth, throat, anus, genitals and eyes
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