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Headaches end in six-hour brain op for Lewis

When teenager Lewis Smith developed a temperature and headache, everyone thought it was concussion following a football knock.

The 13-year-old had been on holiday in Cornwall with his family in July when they began to notice something was very wrong.

“We were none the wiser about Lewis’s condition until we set off on holiday and I noticed his forehead had started to swell up,” explained mum Nicki, 44.

“He had suffered a knock on the head playing football a couple of weeks before, so we thought it might have been related to that.

“When it began to cover his right eye, giving him ongoing headaches, we visited two hospitals but both indicated it might be mild concussion.”

Still concerned about their son’s health, Nicki and husband Danny, also 44, cut the holiday short and returned home. The family, from Droxford, headed straight to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, where Lewis was admitted and underwent a CT scan.

Doctors discovered a sinus infection between his skull and his brain and rushed him to Southampton Children’s Hospital, where he underwent six hours of emergency brain surgery.

“It was all such a sudden shock to us,” said Nicki. “One moment we were on holiday, the next our son was being taken into an operating theatre – it was a complete nightmare.”

Lewis was suffering from common sinusitis – inflammation of small cavities behind the cheekbone and forehead – which, in most cases, can be cleared with over-the-counter medication or antibiotics.

But, in very rare cases – around one in 10,000 – bacteria can spread to the eye, surrounding bone, blood or the brain and prove fatal unless treated quickly.

On arrival in Southampton, he was already showing signs of fever and sepsis.

“When anyone has an infection to the brain it is very serious and the antibiotics must be strong enough to penetrate the blood brain barrier and kill it off,” explained Chrissy Ward, an advanced paediatric neurosurgical nurse practitioner.

“But we also had to contend with the swelling on his brain and couldn’t risk the possibility of raised pressure in his skull as it would have caused him to become unconscious.

“Therefore, the neurosurgeons had to perform a craniectomy – removal of a section of skull – to allow his brain to swell without pressurising the skull.” 

As part of the procedure, the piece of bone cut from Lewis’s skull was placed in his stomach to protect and preserve it. 

He then had intravenous and oral antibiotics for six weeks before having the bone in his skull replaced two months later on his 13th birthday.

“Sinusitis with secondary infection in the brain is a life-threatening condition that requires swift treatment,” said neurosurgeon Mr Aabir Chakraborty.

“Lewis received this swift treatment from a number of specialist teams and I am delighted he has made such a good recovery.”

 Although Lewis cannot return to contact sport until early 2014, he has been working hard with his teammates at Botley Football Club to fundraise for staff in Southampton General Hospital and at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, and has so far raised £1,615.

Last updated: 2/12/13

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