Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Earlier this year I met Sarah Joyce, an amazing young woman who at just 30 years of age began her battle with meningococcal disease. One night in August 2016, Sarah was having dinner with her parents on St Huberts Island, where she lives, when she began to feel unwell and later began vomiting and experiencing light sensitivity and fever. Within hours she was placed in an induced coma and was on life support for over a week. Doctors diagnosed her with meningococcal septicaemia W strain, one of the most deadly. Since that time, Sarah has been through dozens of surgeries, including the removal of her spleen, gallbladder and a large portion of her bowel. She endured the amputation of fingers and toes, and now requires dialysis three times a week in order to keep her kidneys functioning. All of this was caused by meningococcal and the damage it caused to Sarah's internal systems.
When I first met with her earlier this year, she shared her stories and hopes with me. Sarah told me she was fighting really hard to overcome this awful disease and that she was meeting with me for a single purpose—to raise awareness about meningococcal and the way it can change lives and families in a matter of hours. Sarah recently launched her foundation, the Sarah Joyce Project, at the Breakers Country Club at Wamberal and, with the wonderful support of Lions East Gosford, she raised $8,000 for the foundation. Sarah and her family worked for months on the launch and unfortunately, because she was admitted to hospital the night before, she wasn't able to be there but it was an honour to meet her mother, Karen. The function was really a celebration of her journey and her commitment to raise awareness about meningococcal and vaccination.
On the night, I also had the honour of meeting another local young woman of incredible strength, Anjini Rhodes, who, earlier this year, tragically lost her 19-year-old daughter, Michelle, to meningococcal. Anjini told me that like Sarah, Michelle was fit and healthy and began to feel unwell one Tuesday evening. After being admitted to Gosford Hospital and discharged later that night, there was no indication that Michelle might have meningococcal but, early on Wednesday evening, she passed away as a result of meningococcal disease's W strain, the same strain as Sarah. Anjini said it was not the fault of the medical staff at the hospital but she did tell me she is urging parents to make sure their children are vaccinated against all strains of meningococcal disease.
The Central Coast has recorded a number of cases of meningococcal recently, and I am pleased to inform the House that, as a result of the rise in the number of cases, this government has taken action and will make available meningococcal vaccinations for the A, C, W and Y strains for 14- to 19-year-olds starting from April next year. Anjini and Sarah have both told me they would love to see this extended to other age groups, and I will raise their request directly with the Minister for Health. But they have made it their mission to try to prevent more families from sharing their heartbreaking stories and the message to us is simple: check your vaccinations are up to date and be aware of the symptoms.