Why mum will be ‘haunted forever’ by pic of daughter cuddling her baby brother
Dressed in a spotted babygro, little Stone Josephs is cuddled by his big sister Atlanta just nine days before his first birthday.
Captured on camera by the siblings’ mum, Lisa Zsentko, it is a tender moment – but one that doesn’t bring back happy memories.
Instead, the picture will haunt Lisa, 42, "forever" – because it shows the last cuddle her beloved son received before going blind.
Stone, now six, lost his sight and has been left severely disabled after being struck down with meningitis at just 11 months old.
At the time the photo was taken, his worried mum was on hold to speak to a doctor, desperate to work out what was wrong with him.
"I was on the phone," Lisa, a mother of six, told Mirror Online. "It was Stone’s last ever cuddle before losing his sight and everything else."
She added: "This picture will haunt me forever.
"As much as I love it, it breaks my heart also."
The mum, from Stotfold, Bedfordshire, took her boy to see the doctor on Halloween 2012 after he became "really whingey" and went off food.
She says she was told he likely had a viral infection and to give him Calpol.
But after they returned home, Stone remained unwell.
"He didn’t want any milk that night or the next morning," recalled Lisa, describing how the youngster felt warm and was "sleepy".
"But he had no rash," she added.
At around 10am on November 1, the mum decided to run herself a bath, while her partner "kept an eye" on her poorly little boy.
But before she could get into the water, her partner began yelling.
"Stone had a massive seizure," said Lisa.
"I called an ambulance and they came but couldn’t stop the seizure."
After paramedics struggled to stop Stone fitting, the tot was rushed to Stevenage’s Lister Hospital, where his heart then stopped.
"He was seizing for an hour and 20 minutes," said his mum.
"His heart stopped for 19 minutes."
Doctors performed CPR on the youngster until, finally, his heart began to beat again. When it did, Lisa "broke down" with relief.
Her son was then transferred to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, where he was kept in an induced coma for five days.
During this time, his family were told he had pneumococcal meningitis with sepsis , and that he had suffered severe brain damage.
Heartbreakingly, they were warned that Stone would die.
"On day five, they said what it was. They took us into a room and said he wasn’t going to live and to get family to come," Lisa said.
"I had to take the children to say their goodbyes."
At the time, the mum’s second-youngest child, Blaze, was just six.
"I just had to tell him the best I could," she said. "I told him that Stone was really, really poorly and that he’d have to say goodbye."
She added that she took her children to the hospital’s chapel, where they all promised to give something up if Stone battled through.
Shortly after, the youngster was transferred to Keech Hospice. He was expected to die within days, but amazingly continued to fight.
And eventually, defying all expectations, he was able to return home.
"It was nine days before his first birthday when it all happened," recalled Lisa, who says Stone had received "all of his [meningitis] injections".
"He’s now blind and can’t eat anymore.
"He has shadowing so if it’s a really hot, sunny day, he’ll squint his eyes. So we know he sees light and dark. And his hearing is perfect.
"He knows if I’m there in the room, and he loves any noisy toy.
"I don’t care as long as he is happy."
As well as suffering brain damage, Stone has been left with cerebral palsy
"Mentally, he’s like a one-month-old," his mum said.
"He has seizures throughout the day.
"Whoever is next to him has to jump up and hold his arms."
But more than five years on from his ordeal, the brave little boy is "happy".
"He’s awesome, he’s really happy," said Lisa. "He loves cuddles… he loves spinning his wheelchair round, he laughs his head off."
However, she admitted that days out can be challenging, with some attractions’ toilets not suitable for a disabled six-year-old.
"It’s really hard taking him on days out," she said.
"We have had to change him on the floor of toilets.
"It’s difficult but we try."
She added that her son – who was also born with the skin condition X-linked ichthyosis (XLI) – loves animals and watching CBeebies.
And he enjoys his regular trips to Keech, where he sometimes stays over.
"He loves being at the hospice. They do finger painting," said Lisa.
The mum has now urged other parents to look out for symptoms of meningitis, including cold hands, drowsiness, floppiness and "glassy eyes".
She highlighted that sufferers do not always develop the classic rash.
"A rash can also be the last symptom," she said. "If you are not happy with a first opinion, don’t be afraid to get a second one."
Despite his disabilities, Stone still plays "a lot" with his siblings Blaze, Atlanta, Devon, Alisha and Georgia, who all dote on him.
He has to be tube-fed and his family don’t know how long he will live.
But they have hope.
After all, the little boy has already defied medics’ predictions.
Pneumococccal meningitis is a potentially deadly infection that causes the inflammation of the layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Most cases occur in babies and children under 18 months old. Around 15 per cent of those with it will die, according to Meningitis Now.
Symptoms of pneumococccal meningitis include a fever, drowsiness, vomiting, irritability, a severe headache and a stiff neck, among others.
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