'Stomach bug' led to serious kidney problems: Tom's story
September 23, 2022
The Algar family, from Eastbourne in Sussex, had their lives turned upside down when their youngest child Tom, aged 12, developed a serious kidney problem, caused by Escherichia coli (commonly referred to as E. coli). Tom spent two weeks being treated by specialists at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, 75 miles from their home on the South Coast. Thankfully, Ronald McDonald House Evelina London accommodated Tom’s mum Kate for the duration of his stay in hospital, while dad Ben stayed with him on the ward.
Guest blogger: Kate
Tom’s illness was completely unexpected, and we still struggle to understand how he became so poorly after what we initially thought was a normal stomach bug.
On Sunday 27 March we went out for a big family picnic on the beach at Bexhill, to celebrate Mother’s Day. We had a lovely day but, the following day, Tom wasn’t feeling too well in the morning. He went off to school but when he got home, he still wasn’t feeling great and was experiencing symptoms of a stomach upset. I kept him off school, waiting for him to get better, but he just didn’t seem to be improving and he wasn’t eating anything.
The weekend came, and we were due to be flying out to Spain for a family holiday on Monday 4 April, so my husband Ben took him to an out-of-hours doctor on the Saturday, hoping he could give him something, so he’d recover in time to travel.
Tom was found to be extremely dehydrated, however, and had a resting heart rate of 150, so he was immediately admitted to hospital. Our local hospital doesn’t have an overnight children’s ward, so he was ambulanced to Hastings.
Tom continued to show no signs of improvement and when the doctors at Hastings took some bloods, they realised he had an issue with his kidneys, so on Monday he was transferred to Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
It was all such a shock. They soon determined that he had an E. coli infection, possibly picked up on the beach on Mothering Sunday, but we’ll never know. It had caused his kidneys to shut down. Still partially in denial about the seriousness of his condition, I stayed at home and Ben accompanied Tom to hospital and stayed with him overnight.
The following morning, I got a call to say I needed to get up to London quickly. I had to get the train – a 1.5-hour journey – and I eventually arrived to discover Tom was going in for an emergency operation to insert all the tubes for dialysis. Ben and I were so shocked, but Tom was a champion, taking everything in his stride. He was amazing.
Tom began dialysis the same day. It was quite traumatic to watch, as it was painful for him, and very tiring. At that point we realised that we weren’t going home any time soon, and I suddenly panicked about where I was going to stay. Although Tom and I would usually do things like this together, he and Ben had already got into a good routine in the hospital and Tom was keen for his dad to stay with him, but I had no idea what I was going to do.
I was told about the Ronald McDonald House but I assumed it was only there for the families of children who were going to be in hospital for a very long time. When it transpired that we could be in for as long as two weeks, I couldn’t believe it. The first night, I managed to find a hotel room for the night in Westminster. It was fine but very expensive. The next day, I went home, and when I came back on the Thursday, the nurses told me they’d found us a room at the Ronald McDonald House.
I feel emotional when I think about the relief that I felt in that moment. It was like a dream. I’m not used to London, at all, but I soon got used to the pleasant five-minute walk through a park, from the hospital to the House. The House also had a great system in place, whereby you could be ‘buddied up’ with someone to walk with, if you were doing the journey late at night.
The kindness of everybody just hit me and I felt so emotional. I hadn’t appreciated how much this facility meant to people, until I had to use it myself.Mum, Kate
When I first went into the House, I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone was so welcoming. They sat me down and talked me through how everything worked. They then explained that some companies, such as M&S, brought in donations of bread, and for some reason, that was the point I burst into tears! I was even given chocolate eggs, as I was staying in the House over the Easter holidays. The kindness of everybody just hit me and I felt so emotional. I hadn’t appreciated how much this facility meant to people, until I had to use it myself.
Tom got very, very poorly; it wasn’t just his kidneys, it went into his brain as well. But thankfully, he eventually turned a corner and went on to make a full recovery. The dialysis treatment cycle lasted 1.5 weeks in total. As quickly as his illness has started, it finished. We were told that his condition, known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), is very rare. The renal unit at the hospital said they only see a handful of cases every year.
One of my close family friends, Helen, has a son called Joseph, the same age as Tom, and I was really touched that he decided to use his annual ‘Cakes and Crafts’ fundraiser to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities UK, inspired by Tom. The event attracts people young and old, who come to his stalls in the Sovereign Harbour area of Eastbourne, to buy homemade gifts, bakes, and coffees. Luckily, the weather was good this year and lots of locals came along to support, raising a combined total of nearly £1,000.
I’m pleased to say that Tom is doing absolutely fine now. He has a few small scars from his treatment, but he’s healing well and doesn’t seem too bothered by his wounds. He has returned to his passion of competitive kart racing and is back to his normal, active self.
I’m eternally grateful to the doctors and nurses at the Evelina London, without whom, he may have died, because he was so dependent on their expertise and the specialist treatment available there. Likewise, I have so much gratitude to the kind staff at Ronald McDonald House Evelina London, for enabling me to stay close to my boy when he needed me most.