Ten days ago baby Charlotte was a happy, healthy seven months of age. Today she undergoes the first of a possible series of operations to try to save her life.

At best, she will lose both her legs and hands. If she lives she may also suffer brain damage.

She has contracted meningococcal disease, the bacterial infection that has stricken more than 5300 New Zealanders in an epidemic that is into its 14th year.


For Charlotte's father, Perry Bisman, and mother, Pam Cleverly, the past 10 days have been the most excruciating of their lives.

Charlotte's tiny body is now blistered, swollen and blackened. She goes into theatre today to have a pain-relieving line put into her neck.

On Wednesday, she will have exploratory surgery, possibly leading to several amputations to try to save her life.

Her parents maintain a bedside vigil in the Starship children's hospital and keep a diary of her suffering and their agony.

Mr Bisman yesterday released the diary to the Herald in the hope of raising parents' awareness of how quickly the disease can strike.

He and his partner have been taking shifts at their daughter's bedside, leaving only when she is moved to change her dressings. The obvious pain the little girl is in at those times is "more than we can bear".

Charlotte has been moved from intensive care to the hospital's high-dependency unit, but she has been ravaged by fevers and other complications.

"It has been a case of two steps forward, one step back," said Mr Bisman.

The Waiheke Island couple want Charlotte's case to highlight the need for a vaccine to be made available urgently.

that large quantities of the vaccine may have to be dumped because of licensing delays.

The Ministry of Health is awaiting approval to start a $200 million nationwide vaccination programme.

Health officials have since reassured the public the vaccination campaign is on track. The vaccine is due to be licensed in the next week.

New Zealand deals with more than 500 cases of meningococcal disease a year. The country is estimated to be in year 14 of what is likely to be a 20-year epidemic, according to overseas experience.

"This filthy disease has had its way with our perfect angel and done its damage so quickly that it's beyond words and imagination," said Mr Bisman. "Whatever delays there are in getting this vaccine out must be dealt with."

June 21, 2004