BRAVE Willow McClarence has proved she is a real fighter — at just a few weeks old.

Tiny Willow was born almost six weeks early.

Then, when she was just two weeks old, little Willow became lethargic and was not feeding properly.

She was taken to hospital with suspected meningitis on December 12.

Her frantic parents Ashley McClarence, aged 26, and Zoe Totten, aged 23, from Breightmet, were told by staff at Royal Bolton Hospital that their daughter might not survive and the following morning she had stopped breathing and attempts to give her oxygen failed.

Miss Totten said: “We were taking what could have been the last pictures and having cuddles with her. We genuinely felt it was the last time we would get to cuddle her.”

A doctor from Manchester Children’s Hospital came to Bolton to help because Willow was too poorly to be transferred.

When she had been stabilised she was transferred to the childrens’ hospital’s intensive care unit. After six days on a ventilator she started to breathe by herself and at four weeks old she cried for the first time.

Miss Totten said: “In hospital her face and neck were completely swollen due to the effects of the ventilator.”

The couple were heartbroken when doctors confirmed that Willow did have meningitis.

But three weeks later her parents were told the infection had gone, although a brain scan showed a bleed to Willow’s brain because of the meningitis. Willow was transferred back to the Royal Bolton hospital before Christmas and was discharged last Thursday — a day before she was due to be born.

It is not yet known if themeningitis will affect her in the future but her parents have been told she could develop cerebral palsy, have problems walking or with with her speech and hearing.

The couple’s other children Emily, aged six, and Alfie, aged two, had been desperately waiting for their little sister’s return home. Miss Totten said: “Emily had been counting down the days until she came home and said we should have fireworks display and a tea party for family. It’s amazing to see her now after seeing how weak she was. We look at pictures of her in hospital and we just break down in tears when we see them.”

The parents want to thank staff at Royal Bolton Hospital’s E5 ward and Manchester Children’s Hospital’s intensive care unit for saving Willow’s life, along with the North West Transport Service, Miss Totten’s parents Maxine and Joseph McSherry for their support and Mr McClarence’s mother Karen Kay for caring for the siblings during the past month.

Mary Howarth, ward manager for the children’s ward at the Royal Bolton Hospital: “We’re very pleased that little Willow is doing well and would like to thank her parents for their kind comments.”