The parents of a 9-month-old girl who spent seven days on life support as she battled measles said they were "terrified" of losing their little girl.
Lakyn-Ray Auloa, known for her cheeky grin and giggles, has spent the past three weeks critically ill in hospital with the illness that has been confirmed in 1028 people throughout Auckland to date.
Too young to vaccinate, Lakyn-Ray is one of the youngest victims. Hers is also one of the most serious cases, critically ill for two weeks and with seven days spent on life support.
Parents Leroy and Sose Auloa said the ordeal was "the scariest thing we've ever been through." They were heartbroken to see their daughter "go through something no baby should ever have to face."
Lakyn-Ray was originally admitted to Middlemore Hospital on August 21 with pneumonia. She spent a week in intensive care but showed no signs of recovery.
An early test for measles was negative but on the sixth day, when her health deteriorated further, she was retested and the illness was confirmed.
The highly contagious disease has a long incubation period so it is often not detected early on.
On the night of her diagnosis, Lakyn-Ray was rushed into emergency surgery when her airway started narrowing and her right lung collapsed.
"A specialist team was called in from Starship because they wanted to transfer her but they said she wouldn't have made it," dad Leroy said.
"They said if she came out of the surgery she could have brain seizures for the rest of her life but there was also a 50 per cent chance she wouldn't survive."
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Surgeons worked on Lakyn-Ray at Middlemore ICU for more than three hours before she was transferred on life-support to Starship children's hospital.
The little girl was placed on extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) life support - a machine that takes the place of the heart and lungs so they can repair.
"She was on the ECMO machine for seven days, it was the scariest thing," Leroy said.
"After the surgery, the measles rash came out all over her body and face, it was awful to see her like that."
Lakyn-Ray's mother, Sose Auloa, said there were no words to explain the pain they felt when she was ill.
"We cried, we screamed, we prayed and we asked and called out to all our prayer warriors out there, near and far," she said.
Leroy said support from extended family, their church and workmates helped them cope.
"Our family was there for support but I almost lost it, I was just trying to stay strong for my wife," he said.
"My wife didn't eat for four days and there were times she couldn't go into the room because she couldn't see our baby with all of the tubes coming out of her."
Starship specialists worked around the clock monitoring and treating Lakyn-Ray as the extended Auloa family gathered to support Leroy, Sose and their other children, 14-year-old Jaydee and 12-year-old Brooklyn.
Sose said she would be forever thankful to the staff at Middlemore and Starship hospitals for their expertise and dedication.
"It's not every day they get the recognition they deserve for the hard work they do on a daily basis. I'm grateful and have mad love and respect for them."
The family received much-needed support from their church and their workplaces.
Leroy paid it forward by speaking to his congregation about the seriousness of measles and urging people to get vaccinated.
"I stood in front of them and told them what I had seen and experienced," he said.
"From that, a lot of people checked to see they were immunised and a lot of the youth congregation who had come from overseas got vaccinated."
The "serious outbreak" of measles in Auckland is the worst in decades. South Auckland is the area worst hit and children have been kept home from school and sporting events have been cancelled.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reiterated the plea from medical experts for parents to vaccinate their children.
Auckland Regional Public Health Service's medical officer of health Dr William Rainger said there were around 37 new cases of the preventable disease in Auckland each day, 1238 cases confirmed nationwide.
Starship head Mike Shepherd recently wrote an open letter published in the Herald on Sunday urging every New Zealander to get vaccinated and play a part in stopping the spread of the preventable disease.
"I am extremely concerned about measles in New Zealand. I am concerned because children are becoming very unwell from measles and some children are likely to die because of complications due to measles," he said.
Awareness of the disease had led to a quadrupling of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines given out in the past three weeks. Some days there were 2000 doses being given per day, compared with 500 three weeks ago.
This week, the Ministry of Health asked GPs to prioritise the neediest when giving their remaining MMR stocks, as the country awaits a new shipment of 52,000 doses this weekend.
In Auckland, children under 4, young adults between 15 and 29 and Pasifika people are being prioritised.
A week ago, Lakyn-Ray improved enough to come off life-support. A few days later she came off the ventilator and is now breathing by herself.
This week there were smiles and laughter.
"As soon as we saw that smile and she started giggling again we knew it was a good sign," Leroy said.
Lakyn-Ray is still being monitored at Starship and is reluctant to feed but the family are hopeful she will be home soon.
"She has her first birthday coming up so that is going to be a big party, there is a lot to celebrate."
What you need to know
• Measles is highly contagious to adults and children and spreads through the air by sneezing or coughing. Those most vulnerable include babies, pregnant women, cancer patients and others with low immunity.
• Measles can cause serious complications including diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain), or, in rare cases, death.
• About 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment.
• The illness begins with fever, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes), which lasts for 2-4 days.
• A rash appears 2-4 days after the first symptoms, beginning at the hairline and gradually spreading down the body to the arms and legs. The rash lasts for up to one week.
• Symptoms usually begin to show about 10 to 14 days after infection with the virus.
• You can have measles and spread it to others before you feel sick or show any symptoms.
• Two doses of the MMR vaccine is 99 per cent effective.
• As part of the free national immunisation schedule, babies can get a first dose at 15 months and a second dose at 4 years. Babies in Auckland can now be vaccinated early at 12 months, and in some cases at 6 months.
• It can take about two weeks for a person to be fully immune after being vaccinated.
• If you suspect you or your child has measles you should stay at home to prevent spreading it to others and call your doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116.