Family's run of bad luck leaves them in a motel

The Penney family have had more than their share of misfortune, but mum Rachel is determined to stay positive despite the latest setback.

She and husband Darron have been battling with a sick child for the past four years. Then two weeks ago, another child fell ill and, on Friday, their home in Pukerua Bay was damaged by fire.

Rachel Penney is hoping bad things happen in threes and that their suffering is over. "I think it has to stop. We have had our fair share of crap."

The family are staying in a motel, until the smoke is cleared from the house. They hope to return home later this week.

Despite it all, Rachel Penney is trying to stay positive. "I sort of think the glass is always half-full. I refuse to be a victim."

The bad run started four years ago when daughter Ruby was 7 and the family were on holiday in Australia. Rachel Penney flicked a tick from Ruby's hair but she contracted Lyme disease from the tick. The tick also gave her bacterial infection bartonella and parasitic infection babesiosis.

Lyme disease is usually easily treated but a six-month delay in diagnosing Ruby's condition meant she was having up to 70 life-threatening seizures a month, could no longer count to 10, and had forgotten the alphabet.

Now 11, and after treatment in Australia and United States, she is back at school but still has up to 12 seizures a month. She is no longer on intravenous antibiotics but still takes them orally.

Two weeks ago, brother Sam, 13, started to feel unwell and had a sore left ankle after a rugby game for Kapiti College. His temperature reached 39.5 degrees Celsius.

In Wellington Hospital he was diagnosed with the bone infection osteomyelitis, caused by bacteria. Last week he had an operation on his ankle, and a line in his arm now delivers antibiotics continuously.

On Friday, Rachel, a nurse who had to quit work to look after Ruby, was at home with Sam when Pukerua Bay School called to say Ruby had had a seizure. She raced to the school and brought her home in an ambulance.

Back home she smelled smoke, then saw a "blanket of smoke" downstairs. She called 111 and started loading the children and medical equipment out of the house.

The "fantastic" fire brigades from Plimmerton and Porirua managed to contain the damage to an upstairs office.

The community is rallying around the family, starting a Give a Little campaign to supplement Darron's farming salary and pay for Ruby's treatment, which has so far cost $75,000. This includes $300 to $1500 a month on medicine and equipment.

The Support the Penney Family Give a Little Page was set up by a friend. By yesterday it had reached more than $3000.


The world's No 1 tick-borne illness. Transmitted through the bite of a tick and can be fatal if left untreated. It affects people differently, but symptoms include flu-like illness, rashes, seizures and blurred vision. Treatment becomes complex and more expensive the longer it is delayed. Named after a town in Connecticut, in which it was discovered.

The Dominion Post