Kangaroo cuddle almost kills Ruby

COSTLY COCKTAIL: Ruby Penney, from Pukerua Bay, has Lyme disease and must take all this medication daily.
COSTLY COCKTAIL: Ruby Penney, from Pukerua Bay, has Lyme disease and must take all this medication daily.

A cuddle with a kangaroo almost cost Ruby Penney her life.

During a family holiday in Australia, Ruby's mum Rachel flicked a tick from her 7-year-old daughter's hair as she pulled away from the animal.

Within a month, Ruby was acutely ill. Flu-like symptoms, severe stomach pains and a high fever gave way to seizures and hallucinations.

Click here to watch a video of Ruby's battle.

"I'm begging you, Mummy, take me home. I'm begging you," she cried during one of many visits to Wellington Hospital over the next seven months.

"That still haunts me," Mrs Penney said.

"It was absolutely gut-wrenching - basically she was going through hell."

By the time Ruby's condition was finally diagnosed by Australian doctors as Lyme disease, the Pukerua Bay schoolgirl was suffering up to 70 seizures a month and could no longer count to 10.

Her parents are now trying to raise awareness of the little-known illness that almost killed their daughter and has so far cost them $75,000.

The Ruby Red Trust aims to fund a case study into Ruby's disease and find a treatment. It will send Ruby, now 10, to the United States, where treatment is more advanced.

Before Ruby's diagnosis, paramedics rushed to her bedside up to three times a week. But anti-convulsant medication was not working, and doctors said her prognosis was poor.

Mrs Penney, a nurse, had told doctors about the tick but had to undertake her own medical research before suspecting Lyme disease. The Penneys say they were then told this was highly unlikely.

After contacting an infectious disease specialist in Australia, they sent Ruby's blood to the US for testing. It came back positive for Lyme disease, and Ruby travelled to Australia for treatment.

Now back in New Zealand, she has to take a cocktail of pills at a cost of about $600 a month.

She has learnt to read and to write again, and is able to go to school most days. But she still has regular seizures, with the cyclical disease often confining her to bed.

If they had not made the decision to seek treatment overseas, at their own cost, it is likely she would not still be alive, the Penneys say.

"If it's diagnosed early, it can be treated with a $5 bottle of antibiotics. While it was an incredible relief to finally have a diagnosis, it was devastating that this wasn't picked up," Mrs Penney said.

"I just want doctors in New Zealand to be made aware of this, and to be more vigilant."

A Worldwide Lyme Protest is happening on May 10-11.

More information about this and how to donate can be found at www.rubyredtrust.org.nz.


- The world's No 1 tick-borne illness.

- It is transmitted through the bite of a tick - known as "nature's dirty needle" - and can be fatal if left untreated.

- It effects people differently, but symptoms include flu-like illness, rashes, seizures and blurred vision.

- Treatment becomes complex and more expensive the longer it is delayed.

The Dominion Post