Phenix City baby contracts rare form of bacterial meningitis


PHENIX CITY, Ala. — One Phenix City mother is on a mission to educate other parents, after her daughter fell ill from a rare disease. Bacterial meningitis can be common in many children. But a rare form of the disease caught doctors by surprise.

Kristen Meeks Cotton and her eight-month-old daughter Ellie have had an eventful week. One moment, they were visiting family. The next, they were making several hospital runs. And now, the family is waiting for good news, not just for Ellie, but for others who could possibly benefit from her case.

“It was very, very scary,” Meeks Cotton said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.”

The Phenix City mother says Ellie contracted bacterial meningitis, usually a common occurrence, after swimming in a saltwater pool. Meeks Cotton is not certain though the pool caused the disease.

“She gets excited, she loves the water,” Meeks Cotton said. “She’s dunking her head in the pool. That night, she started vomiting everywhere.”

The symptoms did not stop there. Ellie ran a high fever, her eyes turned red, and she had a seizure. Several hospital visits later, her mom discovered a bulge on her daughter’s head, building up more anxiety.

“I asked the doctor, ‘hey is this normal?’ She said no it’s not. Her whole face just changed and that’s when I knew something was wrong.”

Ellie went to a Birmingham hospital, where she’s had several tests done.

“She could lose hearing, she could lose her sight,” Meeks Cotton said. “We don’t care. She’s alive, and that’s all we care about right now.”

While doctors continue to work toward finding out what type of bacteria is causing baby Ellie pain, her mother wants to share an important message that could save other children’s lives.

“Keep an eye on your babies,” Meeks Cotton said. “Always trust your mom’s intuition, because if I hadn’t have felt the top of her head, we probably would have lost her.”

The family says it could be several days before the hospital releases Ellie. Doctors are working to research this case to help save other children’s lives. But the uncertainty is certainly eating up the family. News 3 is digging deeper into how bacterial meningitis can spread. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies are at a heightened risk for the disease compared to others.

The CDC adds people can carry bacteria in or on their bodies without being sick. The infection can spread where large groups gather, such as schools or swimming pools. Usually, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and dizziness will appear three to seven days after exposure.

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