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Sunderland schoolgirl’s amazing recovery after sinus infection spread to brain

Marnie Purnell suffered a sinus infection which spread to her brain
Marnie Purnell suffered a sinus infection which spread to her brain

A brave Sunderland schoolgirl has made an astonishing recovery after she had to have part of her skull removed when a sinus infection spread to her brain.

Marnie Purnell, from Moorside, was just eleven when she was struck down by what her parents initially put down to flu-like symptoms, in May 2016.

Marnie Purnell suffered a sinus infection which spread to her brain

Marnie Purnell suffered a sinus infection which spread to her brain

But when parents Corley, 32, and Stephen, 38, noticed their daughter was not getting any better and that she was losing weight, they took her to the doctors.

Marnie was admitted to Sunderland Royal Hospital for tests and later transferred to the Great North Children’s Hospital, based at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she underwent a ten-hour operation after the sinus infection had spread to her brain.

She was left temporarily paralysed and needed to learn how to walk and talk again.

But, now 13, Marnie has made an amazing recovery and the St Anthony’s Catholic Girls Academy pupil is back enjoying her studies.

Marnie Purnell suffered a sinus infection which spread to her brain

Marnie Purnell suffered a sinus infection which spread to her brain

Mum Corley recalled: “They discovered she had a brain infection and she was blue-lighted to the RVI, where they carried out a ten-hour operation to stop it spreading.

“Her sinuses were filled with fluid and infection, even her back sinus was affected, which is not normally the case.

“She ended up having two operations in a fortnight, to take away the infection from her sinuses.

“They removed part of her skull and she was placed in an induced coma for 48 hours.

Marnie Purnell and with Dr Marieke Emonts-le-Clercq, consultant in paediatric ifectious diseases and immunology.

Marnie Purnell and with Dr Marieke Emonts-le-Clercq, consultant in paediatric ifectious diseases and immunology.

“When she came round that night, she was paralysed and she couldn’t speak.

“That night she had a huge seizure and she underwent tests for all sorts of things.

“She didn’t repond at all and was fitting.”

Doctors at the Great North Children’s Hospital discovered Marnie’s infection had spread from the right side of the brain, to the left side.

Corley said: “It was disastrous because Marnie is right-handed and that part of the brain controls the right side of the body.

“She couldn’t speak and didn’t know what was going on.”

Marnie underwent several weeks of grueling rehabilitation to help with her movement and speech.

“She was so determined,” Corley said. “I have never seen a child like her.

“After a few weeks she was out of hospital. She was determined to go back to school in September, she was starting secondary school.”

Marnie continued to have seizures, and as a result doctors were unable to replace the missing piece of skull - which was about three inches long from back to front - until Christmas a year ago.

The ever-determined Marnie then insisted on coming off her seizure medication.

Corley said: “She’s completely recovered, but the medication has had an effect on the way she is.

“But, if you had seen her when she was ill you wouldn’t believe she is the same person.”

Now Corley - who is also mother to Imogen, nine, and three-year-old Thea - wants to warn other parents to seek medical attention if a seemingly-harmless illness doesn’t go away.

She said: “It was the sinusitis that started it. That’s where the infection started and it leaked into her brain.

“It wasn’t a long process until that happened, probably a couple of weeks. It didn’t take long.

“I think it was the persistent headaches that made me worry, that and the weight loss.”

Marnie has now recovered so well they rarely think about her illness.

Corley said: “Marnie is really great. I just can’t believe how well she is.

“She has been so positive all along. As soon as she came home from hospital, she didn’t lay around on the sofa, she was so determined.

“She did get tired at times, but as far as she was concerned she came home and that was it.”

Marnie said: “It was frustrating learning how to walk and talk again but the consultants, nurses, physios and rehab team have all been fantastic. They said they’d never seen such a bad infection but thanks to them I’m back to school and feeling a lot better.”

* Corley recently organised a fundraising event, resulting in a £2,000 donation to the Paediatric Infectious Diseases fund at the Great North Children’s Hospital.

And Marnie returned to the hospital with her mum to present the cheque to Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Dr Marieke Emonts-le- Clercq, who helped make her better.

Corley added: “It’s been a very tough time, our lives were turned upside down.

“We’re just really thankful to everyone here who helped her to get better, they’re all amazing.”

Anyone who would like to support the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Fund through a fundraising activity, can contact the Trust’s Charitable Funds office on 0191 213 7235 or email Charity.Matters@nuth.nhs.uk where help and advice will be provided, along with sponsorship forms if needed.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Fund to aid research in this important area and further develop local expertise, should make cheques payable to ‘Newcastle Hospitals NHS Charity’ and write ‘Paediatric Infectious Diseases Fund’ on the reverse.

Cheques can be sent to the Charitable Funds Office, Peacock Hall, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Queen Victoria Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP.