A HEARTBROKEN mother is calling on pregnant women to beware of the dangers of swine flu after her daughter died of the illness - days after giving birth to her second child.
Nikki Westgarth was on a specialist life support machine when she gave birth to daughter Eva Rose by caesarean section at just seven months on Tuesday, February 4.
Baby Eva Rose, who now weighs just over two pounds, was transferred to the neonatal unit at the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, where her condition is slowly improving.
Miss Westgarth leaves behind her four-year-old son, Jake Grimes, partner, George Burrell, and her large close-knit family, including six siblings.
Her mother, Kim Hannant, said: “It is awful, like being in a nightmare. When you think of flu, you just think you will be ill in bed for a few days but it can be devastating and we want people to know just how bad it can be.
"A few weeks ago we were shopping for a pram and now we are looking at coffins.
“It is so important pregnant young women are made aware.”
The first signs of the illness appeared before Christmas but the busy young mother dismissed the tiredness as a side effect of pregnancy.
However, over Christmas, the whole family was struck down by flu.
Unable to shake off her cough, Miss Westgarth sought medical advice and was immediately sent to Darlington Memorial Hospital.
Her health deteriorated rapidly and she was moved to intensive care, where she remained on life support for two weeks before being sent to Glenfield Hospital for Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation treatment.
This is a relatively new treatment for severe respiratory failure but sadly it was not enough to save her.
Mrs Hannant, who lived next door to her daughter, described her as a “lovely girl who was everybody’s friend.”
“She was devoted to Jake and loved being a mum,” said Mrs Hannant, 56. “They did everything together. She was always reading with him and drawing pictures. Nikki was very artistic.”
A former Greenfield Community College pupil, Miss Westgarth hoped to become a professional hairdresser.
She was passionate about music and loved to attend rock festivals with her father, Gary Westgarth, and often listened to Northern Soul with her step-father, Ian Hannant.
Mr Burrell, 24, said it was hard to come to terms with the loss of his “beautiful angel.”
“How do you react to something like this?” he said. “I am devastated but I have to stay strong and focused for Eva Rose. I want to bring her up well and make Nikki proud.”
A Facebook group, Rest in Peace NikkiWestgarth, has been inundated with tributes.
Dr Tricia Cresswell, a consultant in health protection for Public Health England in the North-East, said: “For the majority of people, flu is an unpleasant, but not life-threatening illness.
“It can be very serious for older people and those groups at risk of developing complications.
“These include people with weakened immune systems, as well as those with underlying conditions such as neurological disorders, liver, lung or renal disease, heart problems or diabetes, and pregnant women.”
Swine flu H1N1 is a seasonal flu virus and is covered by the flu jab that is offered by the NHS every autumn to older people and those in high-risk groups Since last year, it has been available to children aged two and three-years-old to reduce the amount of flu within a community.
Dr Cresswell added: “The vaccine usually gives good protection against flu but some people do get flu even after having had the vaccine.”
Miss Westgarth had a series of injections when she discovered she was pregnant but her family is unsure whether this included the flu vaccine.
Her funeral will be held at Wear Valley Crematorium, in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, at 1.15pm on Wednesday, February 26.
This will be followed by a celebration of her life at the Turbinia pub, on Sid Chaplin Drive, in Newton Aycliffe.
WHAT IS SWINE FLU?
Swine flu was the name given to the new strain of influenza that was responsible for a flu pandemic during 2009-2010. It is better known as H1N1 influenza reflecting the flu strain from which it comes and is now considered one of the normal seasonal flu strains.
HOW CAN I PREVENT IT OR PROTECT MYSELF?
A flu vaccine is by far the most important step in protecting against infection.
HOW IS IT SPREAD?
The most effective way to stop flu spreading is for people to stay at home if they develop a flu-like illness and to have good respiratory and hand hygiene. This means sneezing into a tissue and quickly putting it in a bin and washing hands and work surfaces regularly and thoroughly to kill the virus to halt the spread of the infection.
For more information visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webw/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1287147913271