Meningitis can't crush Arthur's spirit
Arthur Stone and school friend Solomon Short with their medals and superhero costumes after finishing the Team Stone-Short Winter Wonderwheels Challenge. Picture: Lisa Whiting Photography
Christmas 2019 was very nearly Arthur Stone's last.
The morning after Boxing Day he was rushed to Bristol Children's Hospital with meningococcal septicaemia, a form of bacterial meningitis.
Arthur, from Staple Hill, was put into an induced coma while his body battled the virus. His hands and feet and much of his body turned black where the septicaemia had spread.
After more than a week he woke up – but although he had survived the disease, it had claimed his legs below the knee and parts of his fingers, and left him in pain.
Arthur faced a long period of treatment and rehabilitation. It was not until February that he was well enough to have the operation to amputate his lower legs and he had further operations, treatment and physiotherapy before he was finally able to return home in March – on the day after the coronavirus lockdown started.
Facing a completely changed life without being able to call in friends and family to help, Arthur and his family – mum Serena Askew, dad Alex Stone and sisters Zelda and Nancy – turned to LimbPower.
The disability charity introduced them to other families who had been through similar experiences, including children, who messaged Arthur personally, and parents, physiotherapists and artificial limb experts who contacted his mum and dad to offer support and advice.
The charity showed Arthur's family they were "not alone", so in return the seven-year-old Staple Hill Primary School pupil decided to raise money for the charity.
Superhero fan Arthur, his three-year-old sisters and school friend Solomon Short came up with the Winter Wonderwheels Challenge, aiming to travel a total of 20km (around 12 1/2 miles) by wheelchair, scooter and on foot.
They set a fundraising target of £300 – but as word of the challenge and Arthur's story spread, donations flooded in.
As the Voice went to print the total had topped £10,000, including online donations of more than £9,700 from around 400 people, with gift aid of almost £2,000.
Team Stone-Short did part of the challenge in Page Park, with the final lap taking place at the end of November at his school.
Classmates made superhero masks, and Solomon and Arthur wore superhero costumes as they went through the finishing tape together.
Arthur said: "I can’t believe how much we’ve raised for LimbPower, I never imagined in my wildest dreams we’d get to over £10,000!"
Serena said: "Not only are we blown away by the amount raised but also by the support and love shown by the local community and even further afield.
"There have been so many lovely messages of encouragement, it has turned something that was initially very daunting in to a really positive experience, and Arthur’s confidence has soared.
"It’s still very painful to recount the early days of Arthur’s illness - it came on so fast and with no real warning. To watch him lying there, fighting for his life as the sepsis spread over his body, is something I couldn’t have imagined in my worst nightmares: it is the most horrific thing. Aside from the loss of his legs the damage to his body meant we couldn’t even hug him for weeks. Alex and I were still changing wound dressings in August.
"Bristol Children’s Hospital saved Arthur’s life, not only the amazing nurses and doctors but also the hospital school, housekeeping and his play therapist.
"Saying that, we were desperate to get home and be a family again with the girls, who have been heroes throughout this whole thing. We managed to get out the day after lockdown and celebrate their third birthday all together. I will never forget the first morning, all of us snuggled in our bed together and safe."
Babies are now routinely given a meningitis B vaccine. But children born before September 2015 were not vaccinated and the government has no 'catch-up' programme for older children.
Serena has learned of at least three other children who caught meningitis B over the same Christmas period when Arthur fell ill and also had to have amputations also. She wants more parents to be aware of the risks, adding: "It is more common than you think."
To donate to the appeal, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/serena-dawn-askew