'I lost my happy little baby boy to meningitis in less than 24 hours' - heartbroken mum
A mother has spoken of her heartbreak after her baby son contracted meningitis and was "clinically gone" within 24 hours.
Margaret Smart, from Co Wexford, said she came late to motherhood, having her first son, Micheal, at the age of 43.
She became pregnant with her second son, Ruairi, in 2012 when she was 45.
After welcoming two healthy baby boys in her forties, Ms Smart said she felt like she was the luckiest woman in the world.
She and her husband Robert were thrilled and felt like their family was finally complete.
"I came quite late to motherhood. We were thrilled when our baby arrived happy and healthy," she said.
"For a while I felt so lucky. Micheal was so happy to have a little brother as well."
Ahead of her return to work after maternity leave, Margaret got Ruairi a place at a local creche, where he thrived.
However, a few weeks later, she received a call to say Ruairi was feeling unwell. Micheal had been ill with chickenpox and she believed his baby brother might have come down with the virus as well.
"We were travelling to the UK the next day to visit my parents, so I decided I'd just bring him to the doctor to make sure everything was okay," she said.
"As my son Micheal had the chickenpox two weeks before, my GP thought it would be best to bring Ruairi to A&E in Wexford General.
"He was placed on IV fluids and anti-viral drugs as was routine, but CT scans and his blood work was all clear. They couldn't find anything wrong."
As the evening progressed, however, six-month-old Ruairi's condition began to decline rapidly, his breathing became laboured and he was intubated.
The decision was made that he needed specialist care in Temple Street's intensive care unit, and he was rushed to Dublin in an ambulance in the early hours of the morning.
Hours later, a CT scan revealed swelling on Ruairi's brain and attempts to alleviate the pressure were unsuccessful.
Just 24 hours after dropping a smiling baby off at creche, Ruairi's parents were told that their son was "clinically gone" and would never recover.
"It's incredible because one morning you're just doing normal things like getting the kids out the door to creche and the next you're looking at your baby on a life-support machine.
"It was bizarre, because you're looking at his little chest moving up and down and in all other ways he looks perfectly healthy but he's gone. You just are thinking: 'This cannot be real'."
With Micheal, then aged four, Margaret and Robert said goodbye to their youngest son.
"Micheal and Ruairi idolised one another. Telling him was one of the most difficult things I've had to do," she added.
"He climbed into Ruairi's cot and sang some songs and said our goodbyes to Ruairi.
"After we had that time with Ruairi and Micheal, my husband just said: 'We need to let him go now', and we had the machines turned off.
"It was only the two of us when he came into the world, and when he left us it was the same."
After his death, it was established that Ruairi had died after a battle with pneumococcal meningitis.
"It's very difficult. In September he would have been starting school and I know that's going to be so hard to watch all those children go in the school gate and Ruairi... he's not going to be there," Margaret said.
April 24 marks World Meningitis Day. For more details on the Meningitis Research Foundation, or to donate visit meningitis.org