Meningococcal Disease: You're Better To Be Safe Than Sorry (Video)

Meningococcal Disease: You're Better To Be Safe Than Sorry (Video)

In the 5 hours between waking at 3am with a headache and 8am when her family had gathered at Palmerston North Hospital, 18-year-old Letitia (Tesh) Gallagher's body had battled meningococcal C disease and lost.

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Mark and Lisa Gallagher talk about their 18-year-old daughter Letitia (Tesh)

‘She had gone up to ICU and we were told to go away for a cup of coffee and freshen up,’ Tesh's father Mark says. ‘We’d only got to the carpark when Tesh’s boyfriend, Kaye, told us we needed to come back. We were taken into a room and told there was nothing they could do for her and she was dying.’

Since Letitia died in July 2012, Mark and Lisa Gallagher have been telling their daughter’s story so that other young people can learn about meningococcal C and the need to be immunised against it.

‘Young people of Tesh’s age are the ones who get it the most,’ Mark says. ‘They live very close to each other in flats, at parties, in hostels … it’s a real breeding ground for men C.’

While Kaye Tia quickly called an ambulance on the morning that Tesh died, there was nothing to indicate to her family that she was seriously unwell in the previous few days.

‘On Sunday night, Tesh and Kaye had come for dinner but Tesh didn’t feel like eating anything and had a temperature. We made an appointment for her to see the doctor the next day but by the time she got there her temperature had gone down,’ Mark says. ‘Nobody thought there was anything untoward going on. She was just a bit fluey.’

Mark and Lisa are now strong advocates of young people contacting their local medical centre if they have flu-like symptoms. ‘Don’t wait, just give them a call and ask to be checked out. As we saw with Tesh, there’s not a lot of time to do anything once meningococcal C takes off,’ Mark says.

Before Tesh died, Mark and Lisa were unaware of the importance of having a meningococcal C vaccination for children under five, young adults and anyone living in a communal living situation such as a university hostel or army barracks. ‘She had had the meningitis injection (for meningococcal B) at school and we thought this covered all types. It doesn’t,’ Mark says.

The couple, their two sons, extended family and many friends and acquaintances have now been immunised. Tesh’s friends at Waiopehu College took the message so much to heart that they created a Stage Challenge performance about the disease and what had happened to Tesh.

‘They took out the competition for the Manawatu region and there was hardly a dry eye in the place. Even the judges were teary eyed,’ Mark says.

Although talking about Letitia’s death is hard for them, Mark and Lisa say they will continue to get the word out about meningococcal C to help protect other young people. ‘If it had been one of our boys that had gone we know Tesh would have been right out there, doing what we are doing. We’re doing it for her.’

This page last reviewed 26 November 2021.

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