Public Health England is working with the Isle of Wight Council to investigate an E. Coli infection which left 4-year-old Isla Aspery fighting for her life following a weekend visit to the Isle of Wight.
Little Isla went from happy and vibrant to being hooked up to life support machines in an Intensive Care Unit just days after enjoying a short break on the Island. The visit also resulted in Isla’s mum, Lauren, being infected with the potentially deadly E. Coli bacteria.
Island Echo can also reveal that a man in his 30s recently contracted E. Coli on the Island with the same suspected potential source, as confirmed by the Council’s Environmental Health team.
It is also understood a woman in her 30s has recently been hospitalised with an E. Coli infection.
Lauren has spoken to Island Echo to make other parents aware of the risks of E. Coli and how an innocent day out can turn into a fight for life.
Where the story starts…
On 7th September, just 5 weeks ago, Lauren Aspery decided to cross the Solent with her partner, Lewis, to visit family in Cowes.
That afternoon they ventured out and ended up visiting the West Wight, where animal-loving Isla enjoyed being able to pet some chicks, rabbits and guinea pigs. The whole family used the handwashing facilities provided after touching the animals and also used hand sanitiser from home.
The Aspery’s enjoyed the rest of their day and over the weekend visited Ryde, Bembridge and Sandown before heading back home to Fareham, near Southampton, on the ferry.
A turn of events…
During the early hours of Tuesday morning Lauren woke up feeling very nauseous and shaky and by sunrise was suffering from very painful stomach pains, although the sickness has passed. Thinking nothing more of it, Lauren carried on as normal.
Wednesday morning was a huge milestone for Isla – her first day at school. However, this was marred by complaints of a stomach ache. Naturally, Lauren put this down to first day nerves and sent Isla to school. Isla finished her first day at lunchtime but soon after getting home developed excessive diarrhoea, which led to Lauren and Lewis believing she had a stomach bug.
Still feeling poorly, Isla didn’t attend her second day at school and instead visited the nurse. Mum Lauren explained about the pains she was having and Isla’s diarrhoea. The nurse said that it would seem they both had a gastroenteritis bug and if the pains were still present the following week, to go back to the GP surgery.
By Saturday – a week after the visit to the Isle of Wight – Isla had developed severe sickness, as well as the continued diarrhoea. This carried on throughout the weekend and on Monday things hadn’t improved. She struggled to stay awake for the whole day and was drifting in and out of sleep most of the time. Everything she tried to drink came back up and she wouldn’t try any food. Isla stopped urinating on Saturday evening and still hadn’t been to the toilet come Monday.
Lauren called 111 on the Monday morning and explained Isla’s symptoms. The call handler confirmed that Isla needed to be seen by the GP within 2 hours. Arriving at the surgery, the nurse examined Isla’s stomach, blood pressure and listened to her heartbeat. The nurse said she didn’t want to send Isla straight to the hospital because she didn’t think it was at that point, but to call back if Isla still hadn’t passed urine or kept down any fluids by the end of the day.
As the day progressed, Isla showed no sign of improving. A call back from the doctor had been requested but by 18:00 nothing had been heard. Lauren decided to take Isla to Southampton General Hospital – a decision which potentially saved her daughter’s life.
“We thought at worst Isla would be put on a drip for the night due to dehydration. Lewis and I didn’t expect what was coming, it never even crossed our minds that this could have been any more than just a bad sickness and diarrhoea bug.
“We were called in to the initial assessment room where the nurse asked us what symptoms Isla had been experiencing and how long for. We were asked to carry out a fluid challenge. The nurse then came in and did a sugar level test on Isla, which came back low. She then carried out another blood prick test that tested Isla’s ketones. Isla’s ketone levels where measuring at 6.4 – this is dangerously high. A normal ketone level is around 0.6-1.5. At this point the doctor decided to put Isla on a drip and run full blood tests”.
At just before midnight, the A&E doctor told Lauren and Lewis that Isla was very very poorly and that she wouldn’t make it if action was not taken quickly. Isla had kidney failure and her creatinine levels were sky high.
“I broke down, I tried and tried but just couldn’t hold it together any longer. I thought the worst and that we where going to lose our little girl. I couldn’t look at Isla peacefully sleeping I was so terrified that this would be the last time I got to see her sleeping, that that day would have been the last day I spent with her.
“I thought how can this be true, how could this be happening”.
A renal specialist was called in from home and before long Isla needed emergency surgery to insert a Peritoneal Dialysis catheter. With a 2-hour surgery underway, attention turned to the cause.
“Have you visited any farms?”…
The family were asked “have you visited any farms recently” with doctors now suspecting E. Coli. The Aspery’s said that they had visited Tapnell Farm near Freshwater just days before the symptoms developed, raising a question mark as to whether this was the source of the infection.
Investigations have shown there is no evidence that Tapnell is the source of the E. Coli. Environmental Health officers have carried out 2 inspections at the farm.
A stool sample was taken for testing to try and see what has caused the renal failure.
“I felt so confused, we washed our hands after touching the animals, how could a family day out end like this!
“We were left wondering how we ever got to this stage, was it our fault? Did we miss the signs? What signs were there? So many questions, doubts and worries filled our minds”.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning and the first blood transfusion had started. Dialysis was working and things were running as smoothly as they could have been. Isla’s stool sample had come back and showed E. Coli was present – E. Coli O157 is found in the gut and faeces of many animals, particularly those found on a farm.
The E.coli had caused a condition called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) to develop. HUS affects the blood cells and blood vessels which results in the destruction of blood platelets and very rarely, but in Isla’s case, kidney failure.
A second shock…
With the confirmation of E.Coli, Public Health got in touch with the Aspery’s to ask a series of questions to ensure Environmental Health could investigate where the E.coli had been contracted. It was soon discovered through a stool sample that Lauren had also contracted E.Coli O157 but, thankfully, her body could fight the bacteria on its own.
By Wednesday night things had taken another turn for the worse. Isla’s catheter had flipped and had got tangled around her guts. Another emergency surgery was needed on Thursday, by which time she was starting to pass urine.
The second surgery didn’t go according to plan and a new catheter was entered. The new catheter couldn’t be used straight away so the use of a haemodialysis machine was required. To use haemodialysis, 2 large tubes had to be inserted into Isla’s neck veins so blood could be taken out and cleaned then pushed back into her body.
Isla was placed into an induced coma and moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
It wasn’t until Friday 20th September that Isla was finally brought round – she had battled through and survived. Just 2 days later she was out of PICU and moved back to a ward.
The road to recovery…
Things started to improve and by 30th September Isla’s food intake slowly started to increase, urine output was also increasing and the sickness was dying down.
Amazingly, on 2nd October, Isla was allowed home but she had to return 2 days later to have her dialysis catheter removed.
The journey isn’t over yet though. Although Isla is at home recovering well, she still has E.coli 0157 and isn’t allowed back to school until she has had 2 clear stool samples confirmed by Public Health. She is learning to deal with the different medications that she has to take 2 times a day for the rest of her life.
“Isla now has to live with damaged kidneys and a higher chance of suffering from kidney failure again that has stemmed from a family day out. I pray no one else’s son or daughter has to face what Isla has faced and we feel so blessed to have her home and with us still.
“No parent should go through what we have been through and I really hope this article can raise awareness to other parents about this horrible bacteria that’s been so innocently contracted. Even though we made sure Isla washed her hands she still managed to contract E.coli. I’ve always seen people say ‘you never think these things are going to happen to you or someone you love’ but its so true.
“We have been so lucky to have the support system we have and the care we have received from Southampton General Hospital. Without them Isla wouldn’t be here today”.
The investigation so far…
Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed to Island Echo that it is investigating the E. Coli 0157 infection. The investigation into the source is ongoing with no evidence to link the infection to Tapnell Farm or any other source on the Isle of Wight at this current time.
Island Echo has been told that 2 inspections have been carried out at Tapnell Farm since 23rd September as a result of Lauren Aspery’s complaint and a complaint from an unconnected man in his 30s. Inspectors found that the hand washing facilities were all compliant and of a good standard. Checks were carried out with vet and animal health records all clear.
It is unclear at this stage if any tests were carried out during the inspections.
A Senior Environmental Health Practitioner has told the Aspery family that she is confident that Tapnell Farm is safe for visitors and there are no risks, which leaves the family wondering where the E. Coli was contracted.
A spokesperson for Tapnell Farm has told Island Echo tonight:
“We are very sorry to hear that the little girl has contracted E.coli and wish her a speedy recovery.
“As per the press release from Public Health England, ‘the investigation into the source of the infection is ongoing with no evidence to link the infection to a source on the Isle of Wight at the current time'”.
Dr Anand Fernandes, consultant in health protection for PHE South East, has said:
“E.coli 0157 can cause a range of symptoms, from mild diarrhoea to severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea and, on rare occasions, it can also cause more serious conditions. The best form of defence is to make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before preparing or eating food, or if you have been in contact with any animal or their faeces.
“Anyone who suspects they may have a diarrhoeal illness should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and if they have severe symptoms like bloody diarrhoea they should contact NHS 111 or their GP surgery.”
E. Coli can be contracted by eating contaminated food (such as raw leafy vegetables or undercooked meat); touching infected animals or accidentally coming into contact with their faeces. It can also be contracted by contact with people who have the illness, drinking water from inadequately treated water supplies or swimming/playing in contaminated water.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY – Public Health England has confirmed there have been a total of 10 cases of E. Coli 0157 on the Isle of Wight in recent weeks, with still no confirmation of the source.
Tom Turney and Tom Honeyman Brown, owners of Tapnell Farm, have today said:
“We would like to thank everyone who supported us this week whilst we have been the focus of inaccurate and defamatory reporting in the media. We are very sorry to hear that the young girl, Isla, contracted the infection and hope that the source can be identified quickly. We wish her a speedy recovery. We would also like to re-assure our customers that Tapnell Farm remains a safe place to bring the family and that our visitors’ health, wellbeing and happiness will always be at the heart of what we do.”
The Toms continued:
“We have an amazing team who have worked very hard over the last seven years to build a quality tourism destination on the Island, which includes the Farm Park, The Cow Restaurant and Tom’s Eco Lodge accommodation. It is therefore most distressing that in just a matter of days, through no fault of our own, so much of this hard work and reputation has been damaged by the media.”
“We’re looking forward to getting back to business as usual now, with lots of exciting plans for the winter and beyond. Work on our new aquapark is underway, we have a packed schedule of events for Halloween half term and our preparations for our magical Christmas at Tapland are in full flow.”
Have you contracted E. Coli recently? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
This story and all photographs are published with the permission of Isla’s parents.