Another baby loses limbs to killer disease

By Juliet Rowan

By JULIET ROWAN and REBECCA WALSH

A second baby is fighting for his life in the Starship children's hospital with meningococcal disease.

Nine-month-old Sakiusa "Junior" Uluvula, of Mangere, has had his right hand, right foot, half his left foot and the tip of his nose amputated. He may lose his left hand and ears when surgeons operate again today.

Last night his mother, Tima Uluvula, told the Herald she wanted New Zealanders to realise how deadly meningococcal disease could be and to understand its devastating impact.

"I want people to know baby Charlotte is not alone," she said.

In the same hospital, 7-month-old Waiheke baby Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman, who has had her lower arms and legs amputated, will also undergo further surgery and may lose more tissue from a leg and arm.

Charlotte's story highlighted the horrors of the disease at a time of intense awareness surrounding a new vaccine to fight the meningococcal B epidemic.

The news that another baby will be left maimed comes a day after approval was finally granted for the vaccine.

Mrs Uluvula said she was glad the vaccine had been approved but questioned why it hadn't happened earlier.

She wanted other parents to know about the ravages of the disease and the importance of recognising the symptoms. The disease had made Junior, who has a twin brother, Nasoni, virtually unrecognisable.

Mrs Uluvula, who has five children, said she couldn't believe how quickly it had taken over his body.

The day before he was admitted to hospital on June 20 - three days after baby Charlotte - Junior was crawling happily around with Nasoni. But the next morning he woke up hot and drowsy and wouldn't feed. His mother rang the Starship at 10am and was told to bring him in.

The family arrived about 11.30am. Junior was examined and Mrs Uluvula was told he probably had a chest infection.

He was to be kept at the hospital for a few hours for observation.

Mrs Uluvula left him with his father, Sakiusa, while she went to get some food.

When she returned, just 15 minutes later, the telltale spots of meningococcal disease had begun to appear on his body.

"A few hours later we couldn't even recognise our own son," Mrs Uluvula said. His little body was swollen and blackened.

Mrs Uluvula, who moved to New Zealand from Fiji 17 years ago, said Junior's kidneys had been failing since he was admitted to intensive care two weeks ago. He needed three hours of dialysis yesterday.

She said the family weren't giving up hope. "He could still die ... We're not giving up hope. We're going to hang in there with him."

She praised the Starship staff, saying they were doing everything they could, and joined baby Charlotte's mother, Pam Cleverley, to stress the need for greater awareness of the disease.

Said Ms Cleverley: "It's not because you live in a crowded house. You could be in a big house in Remuera and still get it."

Mrs Uluvula said Nasoni had escaped unscathed despite the two boys always being together.

The families of Junior and Charlotte have been supporting each other through their ordeals.

Mrs Uluvula said Ms Cleverley and her partner, Perry Bisman, understood exactly what she and her husband were going through. "It's really good to have them to talk to."

The long-awaited $200 million mass vaccination against meningococcal disease will start this month with infants in the Counties Manukau area and some East Auckland suburbs at high risk from the disease.

The school-based programme is due to begin early next month.

The Ministry of Health aims to eventually vaccinate 90 per cent of New Zealanders under 20.

What is meningococcal disease?

Herald Feature: Meningococcal Disease

Related information and links

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