Keri McAllister wins Little Miss Northern Ireland after battling deadly meningitis virus
A six year-old girl who nearly lost her life to a deadly strain of meningitis is celebrating after winning the title of Little Miss Northern Ireland.
Her mother Michelle Howard says that she's delighted her pretty daughter Keri McAllister won the title but as far as she's concerned she's still her "wee miracle".
The Co Down mother-of-four told how on one fateful day in 2011, her daughter's 'flu-like' symptoms landed her in intensive care at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast within hours, fighting against the poison in her bloodstream that began to attack her vital organs.
But for the quick, expert response from the family GP and a hospital doctor who both feared it was meningitis, little Keri may not be here today.
The Newtownards girl won the age 4-10 age group in the Miss Mini and Little Northern Ireland beauty pageant held at La Mon Hotel, Belfast. Keri, a Castle Gardens Primary School pupil, was rewarded with a crown, sash, certificate, trophy and a bouquet of flowers.
Now Keri and her mother, father and stepfather are looking forward to seeing her compete in the Little Miss UK finals in Edinburgh next year.
However, despite all the celebrations Keri's parents know only too well just how close they came to losing her when she developed meningococcal septicaemia when she was just 21 months old.
Michelle told the Belfast Telegraph how every parent's nightmare unfolded.
"It was March 17, 2011 and I had to go out to work for a few hours.
"Keri's father was looking after her and she hadn't been too well earlier that morning," she said.
"She had flu-like symptoms, running hot and cold and complained of a sore head and legs. By the time I came back for her that afternoon, her dad said that she really hadn't moved since I left and so I was beginning to think there was a bit more to it.
"I decided to change her nappy and that's when I saw the little red splotches of rash. I rang my GP right away and asked should I take her down to the surgery.
"She told me that I hadn't enough time to do that and that she had called for a paramedic to come to my house right away.
"They rushed her and me to the Ulster Hospital where she was treated by several doctors. One of them, Dr McCullough, said right away it was meningitis and there was a protocol in place to treat it.
"She was then rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital by a special team and put into a medically induced coma to protect her vital organs from the septicaemia. Within less than an hour, you could see how quickly the poison was working through her body."
Michelle and her family are forever thankful to all the healthcare professionals who saved Keri's life as she was released from hospital in two and a half weeks.
Keri still required some further medical treatment afterwards as well as some play therapy to help her deal with the trauma.
Michelle added: "Keri has always been a very girlie girl and a bit of a poser so when all her treatment was over we wanted to do something for her."
It was the first time that Keri had ever entered the beauty pageant which frowns on the excessive make-up and tanning application that some other junior pageants expect from entrants.
While the pageant cost the family nearly £600, Michelle believes that it's something her daughter richly deserves.