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What started as a common childhood virus quickly turned into a life threatening case of pneumococcal meningitis for 14 month old Elly in 2004. Ten years on, Elly's mother Jo shares with us the story of her little girls fight to live and the resulting life-long consequences of this terrible disease.
When Elly was 14 months old she picked up Rotavirus, a common childhood bug causing diarrhea and vomiting. The doctors told me to watch out for dehydration, but we thought she was well enough to fly from Auckland to Christchurch for our planned holiday in Hanmer Springs.
When we arrived in Christchurch I noticed she was a little pale, but this was supposedly normal.
The next day Elly was sleepy and limp and not wanting to eat or drink, so we contacted the doctor around 4.30pm. He tried to get an IV line in to treat her for dehydration, but by this stage her body had shut down. After five unsuccessful attempts, Elly was sent by ambulance to Christchurch hospital around 7.30pm.
One of the Accident and Emergency doctors noticed that Elly was reacting to light and arching her back, so she was stripped of all her clothes. While there was no sign of a rash or change in her skin colour, they immediately took her to another room for a lumbar puncture.
The results came back quickly that our little girl had meningitis. Needless to say, we were shocked – we had thought she was just dehydrated and would be ok once she got some fluids.
The medical team started IV antibiotics straight away but told us Elly’s condition wasn’t good and she may only have a couple of hours to live. If she didn't start reacting to the drugs straight away, Elly would need to be air-lifted to Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland with just one parent. Being a very close family, this was a frightening prospect for us.
Fortunately Elly reacted well to the drugs and she was quickly moved to the High Dependency Unit. As a family we were well looked after and kept informed. We knew the next 24 hours would determine whether Elly lived or died, and if she lived, how much damage had been done.
Her body temperature kept dropping, setting alarms off, so they wrapped her in a special thermal blanket to keep her temperature up. This was a slow process, but it worked.
After four days, Elly was moved to the children’s ward - much more responsive but still lethargic. She received amazing care from some great nurses before we had to prepare her for the plane ride home.
We flew back the Auckland and drove to Hamilton where we admitted Elly to Waikato Hospital. As an outpatient we saw the doctor each morning and evening over the next seven days for the required medication - simultaneous injections in her thighs. My husband and I both had to hold Elly down each time because they hurt so much.
When we took Elly for her six-week post discharge appointment, we found out she was not hearing normally. After another audiology appointment we were told she needed an ABR (Auditory Brain Response) under a general anaesthetic. At the age of 22 months this was done and our brave girl was diagnosed as profoundly deaf.
While we now live with a permanent reminder of this terrible disease, we just feel lucky to have our little girl alive.
Disclaimer - The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand promotes the prevention, control and awareness of meningitis. It is not a professional medical authority. The text on this website provides general information about meningitis and septicaemia, not medical advice. It is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of these diseases. Please consult your doctor to discuss the information or if you are concerned someone may be ill.
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