"Dad I need help".
The words that every parent dreads but would never want to miss hearing came as a text to Greg Bracey at 1.30am about a month ago.
The texter was his elder son Callum who was in a sleep-out just 100 metres from the family home at Tutukaka. It was a message that saved Callum from serious harm from meningococcal disease and his story comes as health officials are giving free meningococcal C vaccinations to children at 25 Rathbone St these school holidays.
Mr Bracey said when he got the text he raced to the sleep-out to find Callum delirious, the 16-year-old had sent the text just in time, drawing on the last vestiges of co-ordination to use the phone. His father, who has had Pre-Hospital Emergency Care training, quickly realised Callum was seriously ill.
"He had a roaring temperature, he was sensitive to light and his neck was stiff and painful, and he had a rash - classic symptoms of meningitis although the rash could have been caused by his temperature," says Mr Bracey.
The illness was moving so quickly he knew an ambulance would take too long to get there and decided to take Callum to hospital by car. He half-carried, half-walked a vomiting Callum to the car, strapping him into the seat. They arrived at the hospital about 2am.
"The staff hadn't known we were coming but they were fantastic. The decision was made to give him antibiotics ... They needed to do a lumbar puncture to find out if the disease was viral or bacterial, but apparently you can't do a lumbar puncture if the brain is swelling so he was flown to Auckland in the rescue helicopter.
The teen went straight into triage in Auckland given a scan, had a lumbar puncture and diagnosed with viral meningitis.
Callum and his father were back home in Whangarei by that evening. He was off school for a week and suffered from headaches during the next two to three weeks.
Mr Bracey says Callum is now "as fit as a fiddle" and yesterday father and son set out on a short tramping trip to a Department of Conservation hut on the north side of Whangaroa Harbour.
Mr Bracey, who is grateful for the care Callum received, also wants to remind parents that they must be vigilant about their kids. "Callum went to bed with a bit of a sniffy nose and a slight headache," he said.