Four-year-old boy's chickenpox led to STROKE as mum issues warning

A mum says she had ‘no idea’ children could have strokes before her four-year-old son was left paralysed after falling suddenly ill. Freddie Rushton, now five, spent a month at the Royal Stoke University Hospital after being left paralysed down his left side.

The youngster was also unable to speak, with doctors telling the family he may never walk again following the devastating stroke on May 9 last year.

Tests found the stroke was a complication of a bout of chickenpox Freddie had suffered 11 months prior. A year on, Freddie was invited to open the Stroke Association’s garden at the Chelsea Flower show on Monday (May 20).

Mum Sarah Kilgariff, 43, from Kingsley, said she 'had no idea it could happen to children'. Mum-of-three Sarah said: “He went to bed absolutely fine, no warning signs whatsoever.”

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Sarah said she first noticed Freddie was unsteady on his feet, and thought he may have an ear infection. But Freddie, sat on his parents’ bed, rolled off and hit the wardrobe after completely losing the use of his left side.

The family later found out that it was at this moment that Freddie suffered a stroke. “A lot of people don’t realise that can happen,” Sarah said. “We didn’t.”

“It was horrific. He lost all use of his left side, but we didn’t think it was a stroke because that wasn’t obvious at the time. It looked like his tongue was swelling initially, and he does have an EpiPen. So, I rang the ambulance, and they said to give him his EpiPen.

“When the ambulance turned up, no-one mentioned the word ‘stroke’. They had no idea what was wrong with him.

“He was just kind of out of it, leaning to the left. We ended up at the Royal Stoke in Intensive Care, and they thought he had meningitis initially.”

Freddie underwent an MRI and CT scan in hospital. The family did not find out Freddie had suffered a stroke until the following day.

Sarah said: “Children can and do have strokes. It was the last thing on anyone’s mind, and it needs to be the first thing on people’s minds, that it could be a stroke and it needs to be ruled out.”

Doctors suspected the chickenpox virus had caused the stroke. Freddie underwent a lumbar puncture, which found the virus present in his spinal fluid.

Sarah said: “There is always a risk that you can have a stroke up to six months after having chickenpox, which I wasn’t aware of. Freddie had chickenpox 11 months beforehand, so it was quite a rare complication.”

The virus had spread to the child’s brain, causing a restriction of the blood vessels and subsequently the stroke. Doctors told Sarah it was ‘50/50’ as to whether Freddie would walk again.

Freddie, a big brother to two-year-old Millie and five-week-old Alfie, was helped to move again by his little sister, mum Sarah said, with the toddler attending the hospital every day during Alfie’s stay. Sarah said: “Luckily, Freddie regained his mobility while we were in hospital.

“He started moving his leg a little bit when we got him in the bath, and we kept trying to get him up and move him. He had some physio and he did regain his mobility.

“He does still have some residual weakness on his left side, like with his grip, and he does stumble a little bit, but I’m hoping with time he’ll build that up. One of the major problems now is that he is very emotionally dysregulated, he’s very up-and-down, which he wasn’t before, and he’s back in nappies whereas he was fully potty-trained before.

Freddie Rushton, 5, at the Chelsea Flower Show with mum Sarah Kilgariff, 43, and dad Rob Rushton, 47.
Freddie Rushton, 5, at the Chelsea Flower Show with mum Sarah Kilgariff, 43, and dad Rob Rushton, 47.

Sarah added: “He struggles with his speech, and it’s been difficult accessing the education that he needs.

Despite his struggles, Sarah describes Freddie as a 'happy little boy' who loves to play outside. The family is now working with the Stroke Association to raise awareness.

Sarah said: “People don’t realise children, teenagers, and young people in their 20s and 30s have strokes. It’s shocking, and we’re trying to raise awareness so schools can look out for it. Children can have strokes, babies can have strokes.”

The Stroke Association’s garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, designed by stroke survivor Miria Harris and opened with Freddie’s help, will be transported to Chapel Allerton Hospital in Leeds following the event. Sarah, who runs Cheadle firm Topsoil and More with husband Rob Rushton, 47, has donated 100 tons of topsoil to the Stroke Association to help with the move.

Freddie Rushton, 5, in hospital at the Royal Stoke with sister Millie.
Freddie Rushton, 5, in hospital at the Royal Stoke with sister Millie.

Sarah said: “It’ll be really good when it goes up to the Leeds Hospital, because when we were in the Royal Stoke, there was nowhere really to go and sit and have a cry and take in what’s just happened. An outdoor space like that will be marvellous for stroke survivors and their families.”

She added: “About 400 children a year have a stroke, but I suspect there’s a lot of misdiagnosed or ‘mini’ strokes, because there’s a misconception that children don’t have strokes, including across the medical profession.”

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