It was Boxing Day 1989 and our family was attending a friend's outdoor party. Our six-month-old daughter Ashleigh was the star of the day and had her first swim in a pool.
The next morning, Ashleigh wasn't acting like herself. She was restless, whining and had a high temperature that wouldn't decrease.
We took her to the doctor where she was diagnosed with a viral Infection. The doctor told us to take her home and give her Panadol every 3 hours. This we did, but things only became worse.
Ashleigh was a gorgeous newborn and everyone in the family loved her, what we didn't realise was our beautiful girl was becoming an innocent victim to a deadly disease.
Next morning, my wife Jenni was about to take Ashleigh back to the clinic when she received a phone call from our doctor asking her to bring Ashleigh back to be reassessed. After having another look at Ashleigh at the clinic, our doctor told Jenni that he thought Ashleigh had meningitis and that she should take her straight to hospital.
Jenni drove at 120km/h (in a 100km/h zone) along the freeway just hoping to be picked up by the police so that she could ask for directions. Fortunately, she took a lucky turn that took her directly to the Hospital's emergency area where doctors were waiting to do tests on Ashleigh to confirm the diagnosed illness.
The first thing I heard when I walked into the hospital was a chilling cry from a young child. Little did I know that I would soon burst into tears when I heard that that child was my own.
Ashleigh had been taken for a CAT scan and lumbar puncture, which confirmed that she had pneumococcal meningitis. For the two weeks that Ashleigh was in Intensive Care, no one knew whether or not she was going to survive.
The first few days were the worst and Ashleigh's condition was very serious. She was linked up to a ventilator and an IV drip. She was having fits, flexing to pain and her fontanelle was full and pounding. Her pupils were not equal. Her right eye wasn't reacting to light and her left eye was sluggish, both twitching. Her heartbeat got up to 210 beats per minute. After her first four days in the hospital, these symptoms slowly progressed back to being normal.
When she left hospital Ashleigh had lost her sight, which after 18 months she was fortunate to get back. She had developed cerebral palsy and epilepsy that have to be controlled with two different types of medicines. She has had a spinal fusion to correct her severe scoliosis, wears splints to help her walk on her feet properly and has a wheelchair that helps to transport her. On top of all of this, Ashleigh is profoundly deaf and hasn't spoken a word in her life. But she is still a happy and healthy young lady.
With the advent of the haemophilus influenzae b (Hib) vaccine being introduced in Western Australia, the Telethon Institute of Child Health Research sought to start a focus group for meningitis to support its lobbying activities for the vaccine. The Meningitis Centre was launched in April 1992. Our family has been involved ever since.
Our goal was to inform other parents of the early signs and symptoms of this killer disease. Before vaccines were available, early detection was the only protection. We were reading of deaths in the newspaper and needed to give young parents and their defenceless children the heads up. We had begun to fight back!