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Chloe's Story

This story was originally published by the New Zealand Herald on 5 December 2018. Written by Vera Alves.

It's been nearly a month since Whanganui mum Tarsha Boniface last received a text message from her 18-year-old daughter Chloe.

Attending university in Wellington, Chloe would get in touch with her mum every day, be it via SnapChat, text or phone calls. The two of them were thick as thieves.

On November 7 2018, Chloe, who would have turned 19 next February, died in her dorm room at Victoria University.

Tarsha's phone will never beep again with an update from her beautiful daughter, and the grieving mum can't quite believe she's had to bury her girl.

Chloe, who was in her first year of uni studying marine biology and physical geography, was an A-average student. She'd made good friends in Wellington and was truly loving life in her new home city.

It all changed at the end of October. That's when she started telling mum that she was feeling a bit low and run down.

"I had sent her some vitamins and encouraged her to make sure she was looking after herself," Tarsha recalls.

The stress of exam season was a perfectly reasonable excuse for the exhaustion but not to the extent of the symptoms Chloe began experiencing over the following few days, in early November.

"She had texted me saying she was feeling miserable, she had a sore body, a massive headache, had slept for over three hours (this wasn't like her, she was not a sleeper) and her eyes were really sore to the light. I thought it all sounded like she was coming down with a cold or the flu, I spoke to her and told her that she needed to have some Panadol, hydrate, sleep and try and sweat it out. I knew she was stressed with exams and had a big one coming up on Thursday so I just put it down to a combination of a few things."

Tarsha did what every parent does and worried about her girl, sick away from home. But she could never have imagined she was about to lose her forever.

"If only I knew then what I know now."

On their very last phone call, on November 6, Tarsha and Chloe spoke for quite a while. Their parting words to one another were "I love you".

A few hours later, around 10.30pm, Chloe messaged her mum asking if she thought it'd be okay for her to have some plain chips as she had been vomiting.

Tarsha was asleep and didn't reply to the message until she saw it in the morning.

"I also texted her on my lunch break. I didn't even stop to think it was weird I hadn't heard from her as I put it down to her being sick and studying. It had taken her so fast. Within me speaking with her at 5.15pm on the Tuesday, she was dead before 5am on the Wednesday." 

The cause of death? Meningitis.

It came fast, it came furious and it ripped Chloe from Tarsha's life forever. It left her grieving the girl she lost, the woman that Chloe won't get to become.

"She was going to do amazing things". Tarsha is sure of it.

Chloe was, in her mum's eyes, the most special girl in the whole world. But, more importantly, she was also just like any other girl. And that's the thing so many people don't know about meningitis: it can happen to anyone.

The grieving mother is now on a mission to make sure people understand that the disease that killed Chloe doesn't have a type.

"She didn't come from a poor family, she didn't live in cramped living spaces, she looked after herself, she had great health care and she wasn't from Northland. Chloe is the opposite of everything they are saying at the moment about this disease and who it affects," her mum says.

"This could happen to anyone's child who is off to uni for the first time and experiencing life outside of home. Who starts going to clubs and sharing drinks, or smokes. Or lives in a dorm and may share a cup or knife and fork. Who is now cleaning up after themselves and maybe not keeping themselves up to the standards they had at home with their hygiene because they have way better and more fun things to do.

"Chloe could be anyone's child and I want her death to be a warning to everyone that it could happen to them. We never thought it would happen to us. And I would pay for that vaccine 1000 times over if it meant that my baby would be with us still and I wouldn't be in this nightmare."

No vaccine can bring her girl back but it can ensure other parents don't go through what Tarsha is going through.

Northland has had the highest number of cases and death from the W strain of the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease (Men W).

Three of the six nationwide MenW deaths this year, including a 7-year-old girl and a teenage boy, occurred in Northland. The number of MenW cases nationwide jumped from five in 2016 to 29 this year, including seven in Northland.

Tarsha wants everyone to know this isn't a "Northland thing". "Our babies are dying all over New Zealand and we need to protect them."

The grieving mother is urging the New Zealand Government to overhaul the way the vaccination process works. She has no doubt that any parent would pay whatever money they could to ensure their child was safe but she feels like, even more than funding, what parents need first and foremost is to be fully informed of the risks.

"I don't feel like we were informed at all about this disease. Meningitis was not even on our radar of things I needed to be concerned about. We had talked about the dangers of walking at night, of making sure she was eating right, protecting her drinks when she went out, ensuring her room was locked when she was away from it ... not once did we think about this disease or have any information given to us about her being in the high-risk group"

A free vaccination programme started on December 5 in Northland to halt the spread of a community outbreak of the MenW, the Northland District Health Board has announced.

PHARMAC has confirmed they have procured an additional 5000 doses of Meningococcal ACWY vaccine, which brings the total stock available for Northland's targeted three-week vaccination programme to 25,650 doses.

Children from 9 months to 5 years of age and teens aged from 13 to 19 will be given the first available vaccines.

The DHB says it hopes even parents opposed to immunisations will have their children vaccinated against the fast acting, atypical symptom and lethal MenW.

Tarsha says she doesn't want to scare people but she wants everyone to be informed properly like she wishes she had been.

"I don't want another family to lose their child because they weren't aware like we were. I really want there to be more information out there for students and parents," she says.

"Had we have known about this disease we would have gone to our doctor and received the information we needed."

For Tarsha, information would truly have been power and she believes it could have saved her daughter's life.

"I know there are many people out there who don't want to get vaccinated and that is their decision, but if there was something given to parents in Open Day packs or some sort of information given when looking into university or boarding school dorms around the first year being such a high risk then maybe, just maybe, more will be okay."

The life of Chloe Sarah-Leeann Boniface, beloved daughter of Tarsha and Ricky, big sister to Corbin, was celebrated with a service in Whanganui on November 13. Instead of flowers, people were invited to make donations to Greenpeace. The future marine biologist would have been proud.


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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