Kayleigh Magee has spoken about the death of her daughter Claudia after the toddler contracted meningitis while the family were posted to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. This is her story:
"It has been nearly a month since being in London and it has been a month of so many amazing moments, but I still hurt so much. I am reminded every day of how Claudia is missing from our lives.
“I wasn’t brave enough before to tell everyone the awful effects of meningitis and the horrible way she suffered.
"I am still not strong enough in some ways, but today I watched Amelia in a show and saw just how incredibly strong she is and it made me realise that I have to keep going for her.
"It is about time that I shared Claudia’s story so I can get stronger and move forward a bit. That does not mean moving on without her or forgetting. Just trying to live a full life in her memory.
"So here is what I said about Claudia’s story at The Houses of Parliament: Today I have been invited to talk to you about the human cost of low levels of vaccination coverage - which means I would like to tell you about my daughter Claudia, or ‘CJ’ as she was known to her friends and family.
"CJ was born in September 2014 in Limassol Cyprus, while we were based at RAF Akrotiri, very quickly becoming the epitome of a Cyprus baby despite her porcelain skin and red hair, she loved the sunshine and warmth, and her favourite place was being in water.
"As all babies do, she took over our entire lives. She was so loved by her sister Amelia, and quickly was the centre of our household. As she grew into a small person, she developed the most mischievous character, causing us no end of sleepless nights worried, but also so much laughter and happiness.
"It soon became clear she had developed a lactose intolerance, which meant a considerable lifestyle change for us as a family. However, this never prevented her having a full and enjoyable lifestyle. Other than this intolerance there was nothing different about Claudia. She passed through all of her early years checks, had her vaccinations, and seemed to be in perfect health. She was a normal 15 month old child.
“However, in a traumatic and extremely rapid turn of events, that soon changed.
"On a Friday afternoon in February 2016, after a normal day of swimming lessons, baby clubs and joining me at work, we took her sister Amelia to the Rugby Club for her afternoon lessons. It was here that Claudia decided to wrestle a child for their Wotsits, and despite me fishing them out of her mouth she had managed to consume a number of them. This inevitably meant a day or two of discomfort ahead for her. And as we expected she was up a lot of the night and ended up dozing on me for most of it.
"The next morning she was like a rag doll and after she began to show signs that this was not another dairy reaction, so we became concerned and rushed her to our medical centre, where she was immediately blue lighted to the hospital at Limassol with her dad.
"I followed on after taking Amelia to a friend’s house, by which time CJ was in intensive care, with a number of doctors and nurses by her side. We were told that she was very unwell and that they would be unable to treat her there, deciding that a transfer to the Children’s ward in Nicosia would be the best thing. We were instructed to get her some bottles, nappies and clothes, and then follow up as there was no room in the ambulance.
“The Hospital is over an hour away, and in that time Claudia deteriorated more than I could ever explain.
"We arrived at the hospital to meet the Cypriot paramedics ready to show us to the ward. Neither spoke much English so we were unprepared about what we were going into. Claudia was in an isolated room and no longer resembled anything of what she used to look like. Her entire body was black, like a living corpse, except her beautiful sad blue eyes staring out.
"She kept crying out for me, but we were only permitted a short time with her before we were removed from the ward. It was the first and only time she said mummy.
"We had a significant language barrier, and felt very alone. We didn’t want to bother anyone as we thought everything would be ok. We were told we could see her again at 6 am, a whole 9 hours away, and to go home. We didn’t. We spent the night walking up and down the corridor outside the ward and dozed on a sofa. Claudia wasn’t great with strangers, and was particularly clingy so this was torture for us all.
"We naively believed that if she made it through the night, there was hope.
"At points nurses would come out of the ward and in passing in broken English say she was ok. But then a Cypriot doctor, tried to explain she was not coping with the treatment and needed a central line and to be put on life support. He explained that she probably had meningitis and it was going to be a hard fight, and there may be lasting consequences from the treatment. We agreed despite the risks. This whole night I was worried about Amelia catching meningitis and we made sure that friends were watching her with the medical staff back at camp. She was put on preventative medication. We all were.
“At 6 am we were allowed back into the ward to visit Claudia. She was unconscious but responded to our voices.
"As the day progressed the Ministry of Defence (MOD) managed to get us a translator and the camp rallied around to get us supplies and support. They even managed to locate and fly my dad out from Brize Norton despite him being on exercise, also sending medical supplies to help CJ.
"But it was too late. Throughout the day her heart failed numerous times, eventually leading to brain damage. Her feet and hands were in such a state that they would have to be amputated, if she could recover enough.
"Despite the dialysis machine, her kidneys failed, but it had helped with the effects of the septicaemia.
“The dialysis machine operator sat by her side holding her little hand sobbing the whole time.
"In the evening my Dad brought Amelia to the hospital to say goodbye, and when she came onto the ward she watched on as Claudia went into heart failure again. This is something she will never forget or recover from, watching as they performed CPR on her little sister’s body.
"After CJ was stabilised Amelia was able to say goodbye to her sister, then she was carried out of the ward as she couldn’t manage to walk she was so distraught.
"Despite all the best intentions by the amazing staff at Nicosia, the MOD and everyone involved, we were unable to save Claudia and we decided to let her go quietly and with dignity. We sat with her until her heart failed, and after they disconnected her I was able to rock her to sleep.
"Later, I helped wash her and put her into her pjs, before the RAF Medical Officer personally carried her to the morgue. I had to be removed from the hospital and helped to the car by personnel from RAF Akrotiri.
"Over the next few days, we were waiting for so many things. We were unable to see her until tests proved she had died of meningitis and had to prove that to the Police. We had both Cypriot and British press trying to get the details of her death. But the most difficult thing was waiting to see if Amelia was going to be ok, or if there was any other people on camp that were effected by the infection. We had to wash everything Claudia touched recently for the bacteria, which means we have nothing that smells like her left.
“Claudia’s death was totally preventable. She caught a strain of meningitis that she was not due to be vaccinated against until she was 14.
"In the days leading up to her death she must have come into contact with someone that was carrying the bacteria.
"Due to the nature of Military life, families are required to move around regularly, and while the MOD is amazing at ensuring its serving personnel are up to date on vaccinations, often the families fall through the cracks.
"Non-serving parents can spend large amounts of time parenting alone, with no support network nearby, sometimes moving at short notice, so changing and re-registering at a new doctor is not always top priority. Many Military Children will have missed vaccinations and are not only at risk themselves, but are putting others at risk too.
"I want you to understand the implications of low vaccination coverage, Claudia wasn’t just a number or statistic. She was a little girl with her whole life in front of her.
“She died unnecessarily and her death has rippled through more people than I can count.
"Not only has her family suffered, nightmares, guilt and despair. But those close to her and those in her community have suffered too.
"A number of the personnel supporting us at the hospital had to seek help after watching her die.
"But I do not want her death to be in vain which is why I am here today. I want her death to help end this fake-news, mass-hysteria anti-vaxx movement and I want you to see her as a person, and to prevent another person suffering this way."
After having time to relect on the death of CJ, Kayleigh wanted to share this message:
"I have been trying to think about what I would tell other parents and it is really difficult. But If I could tell them anything, it is to make the time to make sure ALL members of the family have had their vaccinations, and to make sure they are aware of the symptoms of meningitis. It doesn't just effect children, and in many cases it can be deadly.
"Make the most of every second, you never know how precious they are. Take pictures, make memories and make the most of the ones you love, they can be taken away so very quickly."
If you or a loved one have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, you can contact Child Bereavement UK for help or support.
If you have any issues or concerns regarding the healthcare you or your family receive whilst serving in the UK or overseas, or if you need additional support, you can contact SSAFA.