Challenge to portray deadly disease

SADIE BECKMAN
Last updated 08:43 16/05/2013
challenge

Powerful message: Sarah Overall, being attacked by bugs while hospital staff treat her, plays a girl with meningitis in Waiopehu College’s Stage Challenge production.

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Waiopehu College is set to deliver a poignant message with its entry in this year's Stage Challenge.

After the sudden death of student Letitia Gallagher from meningococcal disease last year, pupils decided to write and perform a piece based on the experience, which deeply affected many in the close-knit school community.

Letitia's parents have been involved in the production, and are supporting the message, "If you care don't share", which doubles as the title, said deputy principal Linda Sherlock.

They wanted to ensure the character portrayed as contracting the disease dies, so people realised the danger, she said.

Letitia's father Mark Gallagher said he and wife Lisa made the decision the character should die.

"Lisa and I both said 'for the idea that you're coming up with you really need it to be dramatic'."

The Gallaghers were consulted at the outset by the college, which asked their permission to stage the piece.

They have also assisted scene- by-scene, although have not seen the entire performance yet, awaiting the dress rehearsal.

"It's going to be pretty emotional," said Mr Gallagher.

"There are scenes that are really going to hit home [but] the message is going to get out to that age group."

The stage piece is an eight- minute drama and dance showing how meningitis can be transmitted, such as by sharing a drink bottle, or lipstick. It portrays the rapid onset of symptoms, and in this case, the fatal outcome.

About 80 students in years 9 to 13 are involved in the production, with 62 of these on stage and the rest as crew.

Others outside the school have also helped.

"It has become a bit more like a community project," Ms Sherlock said. Mr Gallagher has organised support from local businesses and contacts.

The production will compete at the Manawatu Stage Challenge on Friday, June 7, at The Regent on Broadway in Palmerston North.

Eighteen-year old Letitia died from a group-C strain of meningococcal disease in July 2012.

Amanda Crook-Barker, 12, of Wellington, also died from a group-C strain months later.

Meningitis is caused by viruses and bacteria, including strains of the meningococcal bacterium.

MidCentral District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Rob Weir said people can help stop meningococcal disease from spreading by covering their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze.

"Symptoms include fever, headache, dislike of light, vomiting, a rash that does not fade when pressed, confusion and sleepiness," said Dr Weir.

"Anyone with some of these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention, as early treatment is extremely important."

Letitia's story has also been used in literature for a new Meningitis Foundation immunisation scheme.

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- Horowhenua Mail

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