'A nightmare version of groundhog day': Catterick twins hit by viral meningitis hours apart

Jason and Abby Ayre

For many parents, the birth of their children is one of the most memorable moments of their life, but for one family in North Yorkshire, their dream come true quickly became a parent's worst nightmare.

Just days after Abby and Jason Ayre welcomed their twin boys into the world, the tiny babies were in intensive care fighting for their lives.

Acer and Axel were born at James Cook University Hospital on Tuesday November 30, weighing 5lb13 and 5lb7.

Three days later, Abby and Jason were able to bring their little bundles of joy home.

Just a couple of days after that, the first time parents realised something was wrong when Acer wouldn't feed at 4am and both boys appeared jaundice.

The couple from Catterick took their babies to Darlington Memorial Hospital's emergency department early on Sunday morning.

Doctors, nurses and consultants ran tests, which found that viral meningitis - a life-threatening infection - was rapidly taking over Acer's body.

The newborn was admitted to theatre and placed on a ventilator.

29-year-old Abby said: "Hours passed and we still hadn't been able to go see Acer in theatre. Two nurses came up to see us and took us down to theatre, I was wheeled down as I'd just had a C-section, and they put us in the family room - to me that means it's bad news."They (doctors) had been trying to get them in an intensive care bed, but there wasn't one in the country."

Medics got in touch with hospitals all over the country, hoping to find a bed in intensive care for Acer. Eventually the RVI in Newcastle said they had space to treat the tiny newborn. Abby said doctors tried to prepare her and Jason for the worst, as Acer's condition continued to deteriorate.

"The team from NECTAR (North East and Cumbria Transport and Retrieval team) took us to one side and said Acer is really not stable, that they were going to do their best and asked for our number in case the worst happened in the ambulance.""My husband took a picture of him on the operating theatre. I asked 'what are you doing that for' and he told me he wasn't sure if we'd see him again."I was trying to keep his hopes up but in the theatre room no one could acknowledge it in a 'nice way', everyone was just so sad because he was just so ill."

Axel and Acer Ayre Credit: Gazette Media Syndication

While Jason, 30, went to Newcastle's RVI to be with Acer, Abby stayed in Darlington with twin brother Axel whose condition was following that of Acer's just 24 hours behind.

He suddenly stopped breathing also had to be put on a ventilator, in what Abby called "a nightmare version of the movie Groundhog Day".

Doctors found themselves once again searching for space on a paediatric intensive care ward. The RVI came through a second time, offering to take in Axel.

Finally the two brothers were reunited on the ward and on 17 December the babies were well enough to go home.

Now, both boys are doing well, and Jason and Abby are raising funds for a charity which helped them through the hardest of times.

They're also hoping to help other parents as they raise awareness of viral meningitis which can be life-threatening.

Abby is thankful her mothers instinct kicked in, urging her to seek medical help for her babies.

"Don't, especially with young babies, think they're going to be okay until the next morning", she said."I'm a laid-back person with myself but my mother's instinct just kicked in. Everyone we spoke to - midwives, doctors, nurses, consultants - said if we had waited a couple more hours our boys wouldn't be here now."

So far, more than £3,700 has been donated to Crawford House, which is ran by the Sick Children's Trust, and provides vital accommodation for parents with seriously ill children in hospital.