A BABY who was expected to live just weeks died peacefully in her mother's arms following what she called the "happiest 10 months" of her life.
Brave young mother Rachel Hetherington lay at home with her terminally-ill little girl Briannah as she opened both of her eyes, looked towards her and took her last breath.
The 22-year-old, of Newton Aycliffe, was told by doctors that her baby would live days, if not weeks, when she contracted the bacteria Group B Streptococcus (GBS) during labour, which led to meningitis and irreversible brain damage.
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"Even now the doctors say they can't believe how long she had with us," said Miss Hetherington, who is also mother to four-year-old Layton-Lewis. "At five weeks they turned the life-support off and said there was nothing more they can do and gave us the last five minutes with her.
"The doctor came back after half-an-hour and couldn't believe she could function with such bad brain damage."
But after battling ten months of chest infections, fits and countless trips to hospital, Briannah lost her fight just before 6pm on Friday, January 29.
"At first I didn't think I would get those 10 months but she started fighting and fighting," she added. "Nothing phased her at all - every single time something bad happened something good happened.
"It was a chest infection that killed her but she still fought for a week. That makes me feel so proud."
Relieved her baby is no longer in pain or suffering, Miss Hetherington said Briannah's death had still come as a shock.
"I just expected her to carry on," she said. "I can't put into words how special the past 10 months were."
Following Briannah's birth on March 25 last year, she joined calls for all pregnant women to be screened for GBS - a natural bacteria which occurs in the digestive tract and lower vaginal tract of about one quarter of women and causes no harm at all.
Pregnant women carrying GBS can pass the bacteria on to their babies. A small proportion become ill and about 40 babies a year die.
Rachel was tested for GBS when she was 25-weeks pregnant after suffering stomach pain and bleeding.
She tested positive and was told she would receive antibiotics during labour to help prevent the infection passing.
However, when Briannah was born prematurely, at 32 weeks, Miss Hetherington claims complications meant she failed to receive the antibiotics required.
Now she is using her experience to raise awareness of the bacteria and is urging pregnant women to be routinely offered the test - backing campaign groups such as Group B Strep Support which are calling for change.
She said: "My baby girl means the world to me and even if one person reads this and gets checked then I'll know my little princess has helped someone."
Rachel added her thanks to the doctors, community and epilepsy nurses from Bishop Auckland Hospital for their support throughout.