Mom Urges Parents to Trust Their Instincts After Baby Contracts Meningitis

The symptoms take hold fast.
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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
May 2018
serious mom embracing baby
Photo: Aleksandar Nakic

Fussiness, fevers and a refusal to fall asleep: None of these are particularly out of the ordinary for infants. But Salem, OR, mom Summer Poff had a hunch that administering Tylenol wasn’t quite enough to ease her 7-month-old son’s symptoms. So she took him to the hospital, only to be sent home.

Unfortunately for Poff, her initial instinct had been spot-on. Baby Blaize didn’t just have a cold or a teething fever; he had bacterial meningitis. Later that night, he was airlifted to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, where his condition worsened. His heart stopped, and doctors resuscitated him and placed him in a medically-induced coma. Ultimately, he passed away Mother’s Day weekend.

While the tragedy is still extremely raw, Poff already has one takeaway to share with other parents: Trust your instincts. She tells the Statesman Journal she knew they shouldn’t have been sent home from the first hospital.

“I want people to be aware [meningitis] is around,” she says. “No mother should feel the way I feel right now.”

If you didn’t even know babies could contract bacterial meningitis, you’re not alone. Because it’s so easily spread via kissing, sharing drinks and close contact, it’s often associated with college kids. (The meningococcal vaccine is typically not recommended for children younger than 11.) But it can also be spread through E.coli or listeria in food, through airborne particles from coughs or sneezes, and during birth thanks to Group B streptococcus in mom’s body. (The latter can easily be detected during pregnancy with a swab test, and passing Group B strep to baby can be prevented with antibiotics during labor.)

An investigation was conducted to see who else could have been infected, since they need to be treated with antibiotics as a precaution. But because of patient privacy laws, we have no specifics about how Blaize contracted meningitis.

“Love your babies as much as you can,” Poff says. “Life is so short and they can be taken away from you at any moment.”

As Blaize’s story demonstrates, meningitis can be difficult to spot, especially in babies. And even if it is identified, it may be the less-scary viral version. Still, if baby is showing any of these symptoms, contact your pediatrician:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Bruise-like rash spreading from the hands and feet
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