A family mourning the loss of a teenager with a generous heart are warning young people about the potentially deadly impact of meningitis.
Letitia (Tesh) Gallagher was a beautiful 18-year-old woman from Levin with all the promise of youth, when meningitis C tore her from her family, friends and boyfriend last month.
Photos on her Facebook page show a vivacious brunette with deep brown eyes and a cheeky smile that could light up a room. Within a matter of hours that smile was snuffed out by a disease that struck her aggressively and left her family wondering what went so badly wrong.
"She had a sore throat, that was all. She went to the doctor thinking it was a cold and she wanted to fix it before an interview," said mum Lisa Gallagher.
Letitia went to bed early on July 23.
"She woke up at 3am, screamed, vomited and her boyfriend called an ambulance," said her father, Mark Gallagher.
"Thank God he did because that gave us time with her."
When Letitia's parents got to Palmerston North Hospital they saw doctors trying desperately to keep their daughter alive. They were relieved when a CT scan came back negative, and the family were told to go home and come back later.
Before Mr and Mrs Gallagher could reach the hospital car park they were called back to their daughter's bedside and told to call the rest of the family to say goodbye. It was 8.30am.
"She was already gone, really at that stage. It happened so quickly, even the doctors said they had never seen anything so aggressive and so quick," said Mr Gallagher.
"She was fit and strong and there was nothing anyone could do."
The family are speaking out because they want teens like Letitia to be careful to not share drinks, glasses, cigarettes or anything that could put them at risk of catching the disease.
The Gallaghers said their daughter was a talented athlete, a lover of travel, with a ready smile, quick to help people and would do anything for anybody.
That giving nature has gone beyond the grave as her parents faced whether they would let Letitia's organs be donated, as she had wished.
"Weirdly, we had already talked about it with her a few weeks before and she was adamant that if anything happened to her she wanted them to go to other people, so it was an easy decision," Mr Gallagher said.
Her sparkling brown eyes along with her liver, kidneys and heart valves have been used to make other people's lives better.
"Even after she died she was still helping people," he said.
Medical officer of health at the MidCentral District Health Board Dr Rob Weir said that there had been three cases of meningococcal disease in the past few weeks.
Meningococcal disease is caused when bacteria living in the nose or throat enter the bloodstream. That can cause meningitis where the spinal cord lining swells, or blood poisoning.
“The bug is spread through close contact, such as living in the same household, kissing and other sharing of saliva.”
He said meningococcal disease was more common in winter and spring and there were about 100 cases in New Zealand every year. There were 13 deaths nationwide in 2011.
"Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses such as the flu.
" It has a range of symptoms including fever, headache, dislike of light, vomiting, a rash that does not fade when pressed, confusion and sleepiness," he said.
Mr Gallagher said Letitia showed few symptoms and the rash most commonly associated with the disease did not show until after doctors told them there was no hope for their daughter.
He said he wanted people to understand how dangerous meningococcal disease was and to take care. "I don't want other people to go through what we are going through."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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