Charlotte's plea: Help me walk again

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman became a household name in 2004 when all four limbs were amputated to save her from meningococcal disease. Photo / Richard Robinson
Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman became a household name in 2004 when all four limbs were amputated to save her from meningococcal disease. Photo / Richard Robinson

The little girl who became a household name after she lost her arms and legs to a deadly illness is appealing for help to walk again.

Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman became known as "Baby Charlotte" after she contracted meningococcal disease in 2004.

It ravaged her body, and doctors were forced to partly amputate both her legs and both arms to save her life. Her horrifying story helped persuade many parents to immunise their children against the disease.

Now aged 7, Charlotte has outgrown her prosthetic limbs and has been unable to walk on her own for three months.

It costs about US$15,000 ($19,400) to replace the artificial legs, and friends of the Cleverley-Bisman family are appealing for help raise the money through a Baby Charlotte Car Show at the North Shore Events Centre on February 27.

Pam Cleverley, Charlotte's mother, admits her daughter is "an expensive girl to have".

Charlotte's legs are uneven, so it is not easy to find prosthetics that fit well and are comfortable for her to wear for long periods.

"There's no short story to her prosthetics ... When she stands up on these legs, she tends to sort of fall forward and her back curves, which is quite distressing, Ms Cleverley said.

"We haven't yet been made a pair of legs where she feels comfortable to wear them for the likes of more than an hour."

Because Charlotte's loss of limbs was due to illness, rather than an accident, she is not covered by Accident Compensation - something Ms Cleverley is not happy about.

"Apparently it's not an accident that you accidentally catch meningitis from someone else's saliva and lose your limbs. So we've had no support there."

She finds it ridiculous that in 2009, double murderer Graeme Burton, whose leg was amputated after the police shot him, was awarded $10,000 from ACC.

"How's that supposed to be fair and how's that supposed to work? These are the sorts of systems that I'm facing all the time."

Family friend and community constable Grant Kenny, of the Glenfield police on the North Shore, has arranged to have hundreds of showcars and special characters - such as Dora the Explorer and Ronald McDonald - at the car show.

Mr Kenny said he felt he had to take action after hearing of Charlotte's situation.

"The big thing about Char is that she doesn't want to be treated differently," he said. "We just want to do this for a special girl."

Mr Kenny said the show's organisers were still looking for sponsors and he called on Aucklanders to help Charlotte by attending the event.

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection that can cause blood poisoning and infection of membranes that cover the brain - the strain more commonly known as meningitis.

Helen Petousis-Harris, of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said that when Charlotte's case made headlines six years ago, it pushed New Zealanders to go out and get immunised - particularly those who had never seen the effects of the disease firsthand.

"Charlotte's case raised the issue. Here was a little baby who was healthy and perfect and she got sick. It got people moving."

Up to 1.1 million people - 80 per cent of them aged under 20 - were vaccinated during the $220 million meningococcal B immunisation campaign, which started in 2004 and officially ended in 2008.

How to help

• Visit babycharlotte.co.nz to make a donation.

• For sponsorship queries, contact the Glenfield police station on (09) 443-8039.

- NZ Herald

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