Near-miss as mum mistakes meningitis

By anne-marie.emerson@wanganuichronicle.co.nz, Anne-Marie Emerson


Debra Baker always warned her four children not to share food or drinks with others for fear of catching the deadly disease meningitis.

Yet when her youngest child, 16-year-old Liza, contracted meningitis, Mrs Baker thought she had the flu.

Liza, a Year 12 day pupil at Wanganui Collegiate School, is recovering at her family home near Maxwell after a dangerously close brush with meningitis and septicaemia, both caused by the meningococcal disease.

Liza had suffered flu-like symptoms for a couple of days - aches, fever and lethargy - which her mother treated with paracetamol.

But on the night of November 14, Liza's condition deteriorated, Mrs Baker said.

"I had the idea of meningitis at the back of my mind but I still thought it must have been the flu. She kept falling asleep but when I look back on it now, she was actually drifting in and out of consciousness.

"By 5am we realised she was very, very sick so my husband, Nigel, drove her to the hospital."

Mrs Baker rang Wanganui Hospital to let them know Nigel and Liza were on their way, and told the staff of her concerns about meningitis.

"But I still couldn't get my head around the idea of meningitis. That's something that happens to other people," Mrs Baker said.

By the time Liza arrived at hospital, the emergency staff were on full alert and before she was even in the building, she was being administered with the necessary drugs.

"They gave her the drugs then they did tests to confirm she had meningitis, and I think it was that quick action that saved her."

But Liza was still seriously ill, and her three siblings quickly arrived in Wanganui from Wellington and Brisbane to be with her.

"They really needed to be here," Mrs Baker said.

"We all thought we weren't going to get a happy ending to this story."

Her sister Sophie, 18, said the news that her little sister had meningitis was "terrifying".

"I was over in Australia and trying to get information about what was happening, but everyone told me different things. I just had to get back here as soon as I could, to see her for myself."

By Saturday, Liza had regained consciousness and spoke to her family. She was released from hospital on Thursday night.

Liza tires easily, and sleeps a lot, but she is able to walk and talk, and her hearing, sight and brain function are all intact. No one meeting her now would recognise any sign of her recent brush with death.

"I don't remember much about it. I had a really bad headache, and then I woke up in hospital," she said.

Mrs Baker said she could not thank Wanganui Hospital staff enough for their care of her youngest daughter, or the community that supported her family.

"The staff of the emergency department and the critical care unit were just amazing - they fought so hard for Liza. We are lucky to have them."

Friends, colleagues and acquaintances helped out in so many ways, from dropping off food, to a friend who offered them a free unit in his motel near the hospital.

Mrs Baker said the incident has given her a different perspective on life.

"Being the youngest of four, Liza has always been easy-going and cruised through life, and we've nagged at her to do her study and so on. But sitting in that hospital I realised it doesn't matter whether she gets As in her exams.

"What matters is that she's still here, and she's okay."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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