Mum believed son’s life-threatening condition was ‘just constipation’

For years, Samantha Turner believed that her eldest son Ronnie was only suffering with constipation.

Since he was born, she has attended countless doctor’s appointments and had prescribed different medication two or three times a year to help ease his digestion.

When Ronnie had these bouts of constipation he would complain about stomach pain and struggle to sleep through the night. 

But what Samantha had been told was “just constipation” turned out to be something much more sinister.

The now four-year-old boy, from Harlow, in fact has a rare condition that only affects 2 per cent of the population.

It all came to a head on the evening of August 10 this year when Ronnie’s symptoms worsened.

Screaming in pain and vomiting throughout the night with tonsillitis and stomach ache, Samantha rushed him to Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex.

Over the week-and-a-half that followed, Ronnie was under the care of two hospitals and underwent an operation that potentially saved his life.

He had been diagnosed with Meckel’s diverticulum an outpouching or bulge in the lower part of the small intestine leftover from the umbilical cord.

Samantha now wants to spread awareness to let other parents know about the symptoms she dismissed as “just constipation”.

This is Ronnie’s story.

“He was screaming through the night he was in that much pain”

Ronnie was always a chatty, happy little boy when he wasn’t feeling unwell

On August 10, Ronnie was rushed to Princess Alexandra Hospital after screaming through the night in agony.

Samantha, 33, said: “He had a temperature of 42C and was saying his throat was hurting.

“He was screaming through the night he was in that much pain – at first we thought it was the constipation or just a tummy bug, then he started to throw up.

“It wasn’t normal sick, I hadn’t seen sick that colour before, I thought it looked a bit strange but I didn’t think too much about it at the time.

“He would fall asleep, wake up, be sick, have a drink then fall asleep and wake up screaming again – it just got worse and worse.”

After getting an emergency appointment at the children’s A&E department, Samantha woke up her youngest son, two-year-old Teddy, and the three of them rushed to hospital.

Brothers: Ronnie and Teddy are best of friends

“None of the doctors even checked his stomach”

At the hospital, a triage nurse gave Ronnie some Calpol and discharged him at 3.15am on August 11 with the directions to keep giving him Calpol.

Samantha said: “They were more interested in the tonsillitis, none of the doctors even checked his stomach no matter how many times I mentioned it.

“Ronnie is usually very chatty and running around the house but that next day he literally just sat on the sofa.”

By the evening of August 11, Samantha was still hopeful that it was a stomach bug which would pass in a few days, but on August 12 things took a turn for the worse.

“He started to look a funny colour,” Samantha added. “His face was a yellowy colour.

“He kept complaining that his belly button was hurting, he would pull his legs up right up to his stomach and he wouldn’t stand up or walk.”

At around 2pm on August 12, Samantha rushed Ronnie back to Princess Alexandra Hospital where he had a c-reactive protein (CRP) test to establish the infection level in his body.

Ronnie’s CRP test results came back abnormally high and he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. He was kept in overnight to be transferred to Royal London Hospital for surgery the following day.

“I was watching the clock the whole time, it was horrific”

Bryan and Samantha have been together for eight years

At around 2pm on August 13, Ronnie and Samantha were blue-lighted in the back of an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital where that evening Ronnie had his appendix removed during a three-and-a-half hour operation.

Samantha said: “I was watching the clock the whole time – it was horrific. I had to sit in a room with the door shut because of Covid.

“The surgeon came to see me before Ronnie came round and told me his appendix was fine and that it was actually Meckel’s diverticulum – which I had never heard of.

They say it’s a problem in pregnancy, it’s been there since birth and it’s just been missed. I’ve been asking all this time to scan his stomach and it was disregarded.”

What is Meckel’s diverticulum?

Only 2% of the population suffer with Meckel’s diverticulum, so what exactly is it?

Meckel’s diverticulum is a pouch or bulge in the lower part of the small intestine. The bulge is congenital (present at birth) and is a leftover of the umbilical cord.

Signs and symptons:

The pouch releases acid which over time can cause ulcers to develop in the small intestine. These can worsen and bleed which shows as blood in the poo.

The pouch can also twist leading to a condition called volvulus, or fold inwards leading to a condition called intussusception. Symptoms of volvulus and intussusception can include sudden bouts of crying and pulling the legs into the body which then stop suddenly. Vomiting, especially green vomit, is another symptom of volvulus and intussusception.

Your child may also pass little or no poo- this causes cramps.

How is Meckel’s diverticulum diagnosed?

If a child has a blockage an x-ray or ultrasound scan will be used to identify the affected part of the intestine.

Sometimes a test called a Meckel’s scan is used to show a child’s intestine and whether it contains a certain type of tissue that can cause bleeding.

Meckel’s diverticulum may also be discovered incidentally during another procedure (like in Ronnie’s case).

Treatment:

If the Meckel’s diverticulum is causing problems, the child will need an operation to straighten out the twisted bowel and check it for any unhealthy areas.

*Information source: Great Ormond Street Hospital*

“He’s like a different child now”

Samantha and Bryan with Ronnie and Teddy on holiday in Marbella

Ronnie stayed in hospital for a week after his operation, while Samantha informed her place of work and was able to stay with him while he recovered.

“He’s like a different child now,” she said. “Each day he got a bit better – he didn’t walk for a few days after but we bribed him with toys and he was soon on his feet.

“He went back to school on September 21 and he is absolutely fine now, he was on some antibiotics but he isn’t on any medication now.”

Ronnie is due to have a check-up on November 17 but so far he is doing well and Samantha says he has not suffered with constipation since the surgery.

“They never listened to me”

Samantha had since lodged a formal complaint about the care Ronnie received at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

She said: “Not every doctor at Harlow was bad but it’s been missed for so many years. I knew something was wrong I know my child but they never listened to me.

“I don’t think it would have been as serious as it was if we had a scan so my advice would be if it’s ongoing try and get a scan and don’t give up trying.”

Samantha and her eldest son Ronnie

“We are extremely sorry”

Sharon McNally, director of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust said: “We are extremely sorry to hear about Ms Turner’s concerns regarding the care her son received at our hospital and the length of time to a diagnosis.

“We are unable to comment on individual cases, however, we would encourage Ms Turner to continue to liaise with our patient experience team on 01279 827211 or paht.pals@nhs.net for further support.”

Essex Live