When Lucinda Armstrong’s two-week-old son started crying non-stop, she knew that something was seriously wrong. As his temperature rocketed and he began to turn red, she rushed him to hospital. And what the doctors eventually discovered was that Armstrong had made a mistake – with potentially terrifying consequences.
Ezra Armstrong was welcomed into the world weighing an impressive nine pounds or so. Newborns drink a lot of milk or formula to maintain healthy weight gain; however, even for his size, Ezra’s intake seemed a little excessive.
The newborn had been drinking four ounces of milk every couple of hours and, according to Armstrong, was “gaining weight like a pro.” However, his intake was around double what he should have been drinking.
So when Ezra was crying all the time, Armstrong knew it couldn’t be because he was hungry. Already a mom to two-year-old Lena, she recognized the difference between crying caused by hunger and crying triggered by a more serious problem.
Armstrong told Omaha, Nebraska, TV station KETV, “He was red all day, he pretty much cried his eyes out all day and then when we took his temperature at night time it was bad.” Indeed, Ezra’s temperature had soared to an alarming 101.6 ºF.
For a newborn baby, a temperature of around 97.5 ºF is considered normal, while anything above 99.5 ºF may be deemed a fever. So when they saw how high Ezra’s temperature was, the concerned Armstrongs rushed the baby to hospital.
At Council Bluff’s Mercy Hospital in Iowa, doctors began examining and performing tests on little Ezra. One of the tests included a spinal tap, and the results were deeply concerning. Why? Because they revealed that Ezra had meningitis, which is an infection in the brain.
Meningitis is a swelling of the lining that enfolds the spinal cord and brain, and it can be life-threatening. Accordingly, Ezra was transferred to Omaha, Nebraska’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center for further specialist treatment and more tests.
And it was there that specialist Dr. Kari Simonsen determined exactly what had led to Ezra’s meningitis. Dr. Simonsen said, “Listeria is a particular type of bacteria that’s known to cause meningitis.”
Furthermore, it turned out that Ezra’s form of meningitis was preventable. Dr. Simonsen continued, “Infants are one of the most susceptible [to listeria meningitis]. Most babies get it around the time of delivery from their mother, who’s acquired it usually from a food.”
Although listeria is passed on to a baby from its mother, the mom will often be in good health and sometimes unaware that she even has it. And because her immune system was fully developed, Armstrong wouldn’t have shown any symptoms of the illness before unwittingly passing it to her child.
Dr. Simonsen said, “Oftentimes, the mom won’t become clinically ill because of her normal immune system.” The immune systems of babies, however, are vulnerable to the bacteria. So although the illness is generally not contagious, it can be passed from mother to unborn baby.
Therefore, while Armstrong was carrying the bacteria, she was completely unaware that her baby was in peril. And what’s more, the situation could have been entirely avoided through a simple change to her diet, since listeria is found in commonly eaten foods.
It’s thought that Armstrong contracted the bacteria from cold meats she had consumed shortly before she gave birth to Ezra. Because of its ability to survive cold temperatures, listeria can be found in foodstuffs commonly stored in refrigerators, such as meats and cheeses.
Accordingly, moms-to-be are often warned against eating certain foods that may be harmful to their babies during pregnancy. These foods include deli meats such as salami, chorizo, Parma ham or pepperoni – delicacies that are cured rather than cooked and which may carry bacteria.
Other meats that expectant moms should avoid include turkey, hot dogs and bologna as well as many types of soft cheese and mold-ripened cheese. Doctors advise that all meat consumed during pregnancy should be thoroughly cooked and served piping hot to avoid any risk of harmful bacteria.
In the wake of Ezra’s case, Dr. Simonsen offered some practical advice for women when it comes to a healthy diet during pregnancy. She said, “I think the main takeaway for moms would be to listen to your obstetrician’s advice. In this case the foods that might be dangerous for moms to consume while pregnant.”
Armstrong was understandably mortified when she learned of her newborn son’s condition and her part in it. Realizing something was dreadfully wrong, however, she had been quick to seek the medical care that Ezra so desperately needed. And she had a message for other parents who may find themselves in a similar situation.
Armstrong told KETV, “I’d tell them to go with their gut. If they feel something’s wrong, it’s much better going to the hospital and figuring out nothing is wrong rather than not going, then to figure out something bad happened.” Thanks to her quick thinking and the expertise of medical staff, Ezra received the necessary treatment in good time to make a full recovery.
But it could have been such a different story. Armstrong added, “[I was] sitting here thinking about it and I just broke down in tears because I think of how bad it could’ve been if it would’ve gone untreated. If we wouldn’t have thought anything of it at the time, we could’ve lost him.”