Donnea's story

Meningococcal disease

Donnea, aged six, ate her usual good breakfast and went to school. By early afternoon she was on her way to Starship Hospital very ill with group B meningococcal meningitis. Her mother describes the careful observations and speedy response of the school staff, that may have well saved Donnea's life.

“I was brought up by my grandmother, she brought up 15 of us. I lost her when I was 10 years old. I went back to live with my parents. My mother died 11 months after my grandmother, so a year after that we stayed with our Dad. We were taken from him and put into State Ward, my brother and I.

I am a qualified nurse aide and I am now going for my Bachelor of Social Practice, hopefully to become a counsellor. I have got 5 children, I am a single mother. I am here to talk about my daughter Donnea. She is 7 years old. Last year she caught the meningococcal septicaemia and I knew nothing of it.

She was born a 9 pound, healthy baby girl, and because she was so big she was a hungry baby, loved eating. Eating was her hobby, and I think it still is her hobby. She never ever got sick. She never ever got a cold until August last year.

The day she got sick she went to school. She had had a big breakfast. She had bacon and eggs, cornflakes, 6 pieces of toast and she went to school. I went to Unitech. I came home at lunchtime and the school had rung me. They said that Donnea wouldn’t eat her play lunch and I thought ok, that’s unusual, because she loves her food. Well she eats constantly. So I said well I am on my way.

So they were concerned over that and deep down I thought oh she doesn’t want to eat an apple, what’s wrong with that. I thought hang on, she loves apples, so I thought I will just go up and have a look anyway. But when I saw her I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was. She looked a grey colour, I didn’t like the look because it wasn’t her. She wasn’t the same child that left home at half past 8 that morning. I got home from school at quarter to 12, and in that short time she had gone downhill. The teachers had noticed it at 10 o’clock when she had her morning tea, so they kept her in sick bay and they thought oh well maybe she might have overworked herself outside or something like that. But when she wouldn’t eat her lunch also they knew something was wrong.

She didn’t say she had a headache. She just didn’t like the lights. She wanted me to put the dark glasses on her, and I thought oh yes she wants to look cool. They didn’t say she had vomited. But to me she looked like she was death warmed up.

I put her in the car and took her down to the GP. He just opened up her shirt and she had two spots and when he saw those two spots he was pretty concerned over the two spots and I thought oh ok what’s his problem. Because I didn’t know very much about it and as far as I was concerned it was only happening in Otara, it would never happen in Glen Innes. They looked like bites to me and I looked at the doctor and I said what is he concerned over bites for? But when he kept pushing on it, to this day I still couldn’t understand what he was saying, because he kept pushing on it and it was coming back, the redness of it was sort of a deeper red every time. I still didn’t understand what he was meaning, but I knew it was something bad. When our doctor is concerned about something we know there is something behind it. And I just looked at him and he goes well – he knew I am a paranoid mother. If my kids have got a cold I am paranoid. I take them to the doctor. So I had a choice either keep her at home or take her to the hospital.

I took her straight to the hospital. From the time we left the doctors, it only takes 15 minutes from G.I. to Auckland, to Starship, she had gotten I think 17 spots by the time we got to the hospital. They were waiting for us. We got there and they were just so marvellous. Every little spot she had they circled. They gave her the antibiotic, they gave her this other stuff. I didn’t like it because it made her cry so I walked out and left the Dad in there with her. Altogether she had gathered 57 spots, but because we had worked so fast in getting her there it saved her.

She had some on her legs. But there wasn’t very much – after they had given her the antibiotic, by Saturday morning they had stopped. There was no more spots.

She is not the type of child to complain about anything. I was just so grateful for the school because they recognised something in her that they knew that it wasn’t right. Because she wouldn’t have told them otherwise. They were so on to it. Only because she didn’t eat her morning tea they got worried.

If it wasn’t for them I probably would have lost her. And that’s what the doctor has said. It was good that we acted on it fast, because if we had waited another hour we probably would have lost her.

Sunday afternoon she was released from hospital and that’s when the bad part starts. Well a lot of people, they didn’t want to go near her because they found out she had got meningococcal septicaemia. They pushed her aside. She was like a reject. It was quite sad because actually when we had her up at the hospital, we weren’t allowed to touch her for 12 hours. I just thank the Lord I have still got her. I had given up on God but I prayed that night that my baby came out of it and I have gone back to Him. But no she was rejected by a lot of people. To this day she still gets rejected even though she has been cleared.

And of course you are going to think that will never happen to my child, and I was one of those naïve people. Oh that will never happen to my kid. My kids don’t go nowhere. I don’t allow them to go anywhere because of these sort of things. All she did was go to school. She went to school. From that day she had been marked. Don’t touch that child she has had a disease. Kids can be cruel. She tells me. All I want is to see a smile on my baby’s face. I just tell her not to listen to them. Tell them talk to the hand, the ears are not listening.

I get angry with her because since she has had this thing it has made her slower. Even though they had caught it but it has made her learning abilities and things like that slow. I just hate how people are towards young kids. It’s not their fault. They didn’t ask to get sick

It takes all her time to try and put her shoes on. She is 7 years old and I say “come on Donnea don’t be so dah. Put your shoes on properly”, and like I say to her “ straighten your clothes up”. And for her to straighten her clothes up she thinks just pulling her trousers or whatever she has got on around that will straighten it up. She wears my patience. Mmm. I think to myself, no, just so that I won’t say harsh words to her, I will just walk away. I walk away.

I get her to focus on the positive and some days she comes back and goes “ Mum” , and I say “don’t listen to them”, but she knows that, yes, she is very slow compared to the rest. The teachers say that she has really improved with her school work. I said well that’s a plus considering that there are children up here calling her dah because she has had an infectious disease.

Well I have always been one to immunise my kids from the day they come out of the hospital. I believe that’s the best thing any parent can give their children. And yeah all my kids are up to date with theirs. Don’t wait, because you never know what’s going to happen around the corner. I didn’t know this was going to happen to my daughter. I never thought the day would come that this would happen to me, but it did. It can happen to anybody, no matter who you are, what you are, it happens. So no amount of money or whatever will stop it. I believe you need to immunise them, no matter what.

I count my lucky stars that the doctor that we had on that day was awesome.

You don’t know it until you have gone through it”.

This story has been edited from a videoed interview with Donnea's mother and has been posted on IMAC’s website with her written consent. The interviewer was Elaine Ellis-Pegler.