The mother of the child, Alex Sharp, 33, of Dartington near Torquay in Devon, had thought that 21-month-old Able had flu. It was only because another woman, Marie Lord, happened to be at the bus stop and noticed his grey pallor that the child's life was saved.
Meningitis groups last night were full of praise for Ms Lord, who ran to a telephone box and called an ambulance having correctly recognised the black blotches typical of the disease.
Ms Sharp said: "By the time I got to the hospital, his lips were blue and his head was flopping. She [Ms Lord] told me he was looking sleepy and said it was unusual for a baby to be that drowsy in the morning. She asked if he had a cold. I said no and she just pulled up his jumper and he was covered in black and dark purple blotches.
"She shouted 'That's meningitis' and just dropped everything and ran across the road to the phone box. As soon as she said that I just thought he was going to die. I was frantic." When the ambulance came, Ms Sharp followed it in a taxi. She said: "The journey was a nightmare... He was fading by the minute and his chest was virtually black by the time he arrived. They said that a few minutes more and he would have died."
Able was diagnosed at Torbay Hospital as suffering from the lethal meningococcal strain and was taken 100 miles to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
Dr Chris Knight, registrar on the intensive care unit said: "He was pretty close to the end of the line. He is making progress and going in the right direction. He has a long way to go but his chances are pretty high."
Louise Thomas, spokeswoman for the National Meningitis Trust, said: "This case shows what we have always said - that knowing the signs is our best defence.Whether she had seen a poster or an advert it has obviously sunk in somewhere along the line. It's what we have always pushed for and it has helped save the life of this little boy."Reuse content