12 brain operations, kidney and liver failure and blind in both eyes, but boy, 5, is only person in Britain to recover from deadly strain of E.coli
Fighter: Thomas Miller, five, is the only person in Britain to survive the deadly strain of E.coli
When Thomas Miller was infected with a deadly strain of E.coli at two years old after eating a burger, doctors feared he would die.
His distraught parents watched him endure 12 brain operations, kidney and liver failure, paralysis and going blind in both eyes.
Now, at five years old, he has become the only person in Britain to beat the killer bacteria.
Thomas, from Aspatria, Cumbria, is one of only four people in the world to have recovered after fighting off the deadly E.coli strain – which he had to do twice.
Months into his treatment, he suffered an allergic reaction to the drugs that were helping him, which was so bad he had to see a burns specialist.
Two years ago, doctors told his parents he would not make it through the night, but now, after having five abscesses removed from his brain and 12 separate operations, Thomas is just like any other healthy child.
The youngster developed the life-threatening symptoms just 24 hours after eating a beef burger on a family day out in Scotland in June 2009.
Parents Joanne and Andrew thought nothing of it when Thomas”s older brother James, then seven, had diarrhoea later that day. But just 24 hours later Thomas – then aged just two – became seriously ill and his worried parents rushed him to to their GP.
Thomas”s condition quickly worsened, in what was the start of a 13-month nightmare for the family.
After two hours at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, an ambulance took them to Newcastle”s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Doctors found that because the E.coli had had 24 hours to develop, it had entered Thomas”s bloodstream and was attacking his veins and breaking down the blood vessels.
A blood transfusion was ordered but the strain had by then spread to his brain. It was so rare it had not been seen in the UK for 20 years, and doctors had to contact specialists in Canada for advice.
Thomas”s case is so incredible it is now set to be written up in a medical journal.
Mrs Miller, 37, said: “We thought it was a stomach bug, then, 24 hours later, Thomas became unwell and it got so bad he was passing blood.
Overjoyed: The Miller family were scared Thomas would not survive. (Left to right) father Andrew, Richard, 12, James, nine, Thomas, five, and mother Joanne
“That was when I knew something was wrong. With him being the youngest it affected him the worst. He wasn”t talking to me, which was strange as he”s always been a bubbly boy.
“He went to the doctor again the next day and was rushed to hospital. The tests came back and showed he had E.coli.
“We just didn”t know what was happening. It was frightening, he went for an operation that day and had to have dialysis. He was holding his head and screaming, he couldn”t move and was as stiff as a board.
I knew something was wrong. With him being the youngest it affected him the worst. He wasn”t talking to me, which was strange as he”s always been a bubbly boy.
– JOANNE MILLER
“A liver specialist saw him and said he should go to Newcastle General for an MRI scan because she thought there was something wrong with his brain.”
Father Andrew, 41, said: “Because Thomas didn”t get ill until 24 hours later than James, the bacteria had incubated in his system and he was much worse.
“They don”t give you antibiotics because, although they kill the bacteria, they don”t let the body fight the disease.
“What happens with E.coli is it gets into your veins and breaks down the blood vessels. Little bits break off and go round the body. They had got into his brain – the brain has the smallest blood vessels in the body – and got blocked, causing them to burst and bleed.”
A horrified Mr and Mrs Miller watched their little boy become paralysed down the left side of his body and blind in both eyes.
Mrs Miller said: “We had to be isolated because he was so frightened. He could hear noise but he couldn”t see anything.
“He went into intensive care and they kept him unconscious to rest his body. He had to wear foil to keep him warm, he was so cold.
“They told us they didn”t think he would survive. You just can”t take it in. After the scan, the doctor said she thought he would not see the next morning.”
It was about a week and a half after Thomas”s first admission, and remained “touch and go” for three days, while he was unconscious and on a ventilator.
Suffering: Thomas Miller went through 12 brain operations, kidney and liver failure, paralysis, blindness and had a severe allergic reaction to the drugs used to treat him
Mr Miller said: “When they woke him up they weren”t sure what damage may have been done to his brain.
“He couldn”t move his arms or legs and the doctors thought the bleeding had done too much damage.
“They didn”t know it if was permanent.” Doctors could not understand why Thomas”s temperature kept going up and down, so they took swabs from inside his head and found the deadly clostridium septicum bacteria.
Mr Miller said: “It”s very rare for this to get into the brain, you can get it in the bones but the last case in this country in the brain was a little boy in 1993.”
Thomas kept having MRI scans and was on antibiotics to kill the E.coli. But one of the scans showed two abscesses on his brain – which antibiotics cannot get through.
The two golf ball-sized abscesses were drained in early August 2009. They had been blocking the messages to Thomas”s brain, causing his blindness and paralysis. After the draining, his eyesight began to return.
Thomas was finally released after 20 weeks in hospital, but had to spend his nights at Cumberland Infirmary so nurses could administer antibiotics. But it emerged that the bacteria had not been fully eradicated from his brain.
He then spent Christmas Day in hospital while the new abscesses were drained and had an allergic reaction to the medication.
Mr Miller said: “He hadn”t got rid of the bacteria, it was making other “shells” as they called them, inside his brain.
They told us they didn”t think he would survive. You just can”t take it in. After the scan, the doctor said she thought he would not see the next morning.
– MRS MILLER
“He turned out to be allergic to some of the medication. His skin was bright red and burnt – the doctors said it was like being in a fire.
“I went to pick him up and his skin came off in my hands. He had to see a burns specialist.”
Thomas had a 13-hour operation on January 19 2010 to remove three of the abscesses. The other two were taken out in stages, with the final one on February 10. The effect was almost immediate.
Mrs Miller said: “I”ll never forget the day he came out of intensive care. He sat up and said, “Where”s Richard” his other older brother. I knew then he was OK. He could walk and talk.
“It”s only really this year that I”ve been able to relax.
“The consultant neurosurgeon who treated Thomas, Patrick Mitchell, said the only similar case they had was a little girl in Canada.
“Now Thomas loves school, and he”s looking forward to Christmas. I think he”s forgotten a lot of what happened and that”s probably for the best.”
The family paid tribute to the medical teams who treated Thomas, in Newcastle and in Carlisle. They said the community nurses who came out to administer drugs had been fantastic.
One of them, Andy Skinner, raised 3,000 for Brainwave by doing the Cumbria Run and the family held a charity barn dance in Arkleby which raised 15,000 for to buy a new IV machine for the children”s ward in the Cumberland Infirmary, and the air ambulance.
The Newcastle General no longer exists, so they chose the two charities instead and gave money to Crawford House, where they had stayed in Newcastle.