Every SECOND counts. If you suspect meningitis, GET MEDICAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. Call or see your doctor / Call an ambulance / Get to a hospital.

Claire and Gerard's Story (for Courtenay)

Every second counts when meningitis hits. 

This story was originally published by Stuff.co.nz on 30 January 2015. Written by Myles Hume.

Within three hours, Claire and Gerard Rushton went from watching their daughter walk into an ambulance to being told by doctors there was nothing they could do to save her life.

They never expected to lose their youngest child, Courtenay Rushton, when she fell ill with flu-like symptoms during a family holiday in Twizel. On January 3 last year - four days after she was admitted to hospital - the 16-year-old died of suspected meningococcal disease.

The Rushtons are speaking at length publicly for the first time to highlight how deadly meningococcal disease can be and how easily it can be avoided.

"She got the best of care from Twizel, to Timaru to Christchurch, it's the disease just is so violent and quick," Claire Rushton said.

Gerard Rushton said the disease was a "silent killer".

It is a message that sticks with them. The Ashburton couple wear wristbands, inspired by their daughter, etched with the words "every second counts".

Courtenay complained of feeling feverish and unwell on the road to their holiday destination. Doctors initially suspected she had the flu but after a third visit to the GP in two days, she was sent to Timaru Hospital in an ambulance. Her condition deteriorated on the way. A rash, an important but an often late sign, did not show until she reached the hospital.

"They took her away and quite a while later they came to meet us, took us into a room and said that she was dying in front of their eyes and didn't know what to do with her," Gerard Rushton said. "From seeing her walk into the ambulance to being met by these doctors a couple of hours later to tell us she's dying is just, you know. . ."

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose initially because its symptoms can appear as other illnesses.

Courtenay was in intensive care for eight to nine hours, before she was flown to Christchurch Hospital. Despite her condition, she jokingly told the helicopter crew she needed a double bed at a private hospital.

She was put in an induced coma but later died with family by her side.

The Rushtons have few answers over Courtenay's death. It is not known how or where she contracted the disease.

They have relived those vital moments but accept they could not have done more. "You have got to be careful going hunting for the 'what ifs?'. I mean, you could turn yourself inside out doing that," Gerard Rushton said.

Courtenay, a boarder at Rangi Ruru Girls' School, was bright, athletic and popular. "She never skited about that. She always perceived herself as an under-achiever," Gerard Rushton said.

Netball, ballet, basketball, hockey, rowing and kapa haka filled her spare time. She even played lock for the school rugby team.

She had three older brothers, Terry, 32, Corey, 31, and Josh, 26.

The effect of Courtenay's death has been far reaching and deep. More than 1200 attended her funeral in Ashburton.

The Rushtons said it could have been "a story of survival rather than loss" if they knew of other vaccinations to protect her from meningitis. Courtenay received every vaccination funded under the Ministry of Health's national immunisation schedule. Vaccines against meningococcal disease are only recommended by the ministry to several high-risk groups and need to be paid for privately through a GP.

"We, like most parents, were unaware of other vaccines and if we had known about these, we would have made sure our daughter was fully protected," Claire Rushton said.

Health authorities are notified of fewer than one in 100,000 meningococcal cases each year, with an even smaller number being fatal.

It can affect anyone but is more common in children under five, teenagers and young adults. Students living in hostel accommodation are at higher risk. Medical experts have said Courtenay did not contract the disease at her boarding house.

The Rushtons hoped talking about their daughter's death would promote awareness of meningitis, particularly for parents sending their children into boarding houses and university halls.

Her death has inspired school friends to raise awareness through purple wrist bands. They match the awareness colour of the Meningitis Foundation, and the words "every second counts" are ingrained on the bands - a vital message to anyone with suspected meningitis.The group began the initiative through the Young Enterprise Scheme, sold more than 2000, and raised almost $10,000 for the Meningitis Foundation to raise awareness.

Courtenay's friends, wider family, friends and families in a similar plight have been a tower of strength for the Rushtons.

"We will always have four children - one is just an angel," Claire Rushton said.


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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