Sally Lawrence, 31, Darwin, NT
Walking in the morning sunshine, we headed to the lookout point.
On the last day of a weekend away, my husband Ash, 36, son Navaro, four, and twins Skylar and Rhainer, two-and-a-half, were exploring Katherine Gorge.
Close in age, the kids loved playing together. The girls liked dress-ups and were obsessed with princesses, while Navaro was a loving big brother.
If they ever squabbled, Skylar was the peacemaker.
When Ash and I got married in front of our children in May this year, our lives were complete.
Enjoying the beautiful scenery, we snapped photos of our little trio as they explored together. Then, it was time to head home.
On the drive, Skylar was getting restless. When we stopped for lunch, she’d lost her appetite. ‘I’m not hungry,’ she said.
Usually, she loved going out to eat. Every weekend Ash and I took the kids to a cafe. It was the perfect family time.
‘I want a ’cino!’ Skylar would say, meaning hot frothy milk known as a babycino. She loved to have a marshmallow on top, too.
She must be coming down with something, I thought.
Even so, Skylar had bags of energy. Giggling, the kids played with a stuffed crocodile in the restaurant.
When we got home at around 2.30pm, Skylar felt sick so we put on Shrek for her to watch.
Then, she vomited and had an upset tummy. It must be gastro, I thought.
Grabbing a thermometer, I took her temperature - 39 degrees. So we put her into a cool bath and gave her some paracetamol.
Soon, her temperature was down to 36.2, but by 6pm she was throwing up again and had diarrhoea.
Poor little thing, I thought, brushing her hair off her forehead as she retched into a bucket.
An hour later, we put Rhainer and Navaro to bed, and set Skylar up on the sofa bed with us to keep an eye on her.
Around 8.15pm, I changed her nappy. That’s when I spotted two strange marks on her skin. Then I noticed a third, on her neck.
They looked like tiny purple bruises.
It’s meningococcal, I realised, recognising the rash from photos I’d seen.
Hadn’t she had a vaccine for that?
Wanting to protect our kids, Ash and I made sure we kept up with the jab schedule.
With no time to lose, we asked our neighbours to watch Rhainer and Navaro and rushed Skylar to the hospital down the road.
‘We’re going to see the doctor,’ I soothed.
After we arrived at Emergency around 8.30pm, staff quickly confirmed our fears and took us to the resuscitation room.
‘Skylar has meningococcal B,’ a doctor told us. Our little princess was dangerously ill. How could this be happening?
We learned that Skylar’s vaccine had only protected her against a different strain – meningococcal C.
‘I had no idea there were different kinds,’ I said to Ash, horrified.
‘Neither did I,’ he replied, shaken. Now, Skylar was battling for her life against the deadly infection.
‘We need to put her into an induced coma,’ the specialist said. It would give her a better chance of beating the disease.
Ash and I stayed at her side as she was given the drugs. ‘No more Daddy, no more,’ she said, exhausted.
Then, she was asleep. Ash and I were beside ourselves. The day had begun as a fun family day out. Just 12 hours later, we were trapped in a nightmare.
Please pull through, I begged, watching over our little girl who always lit up a room with her smile.
After that, everything happened so fast. The doctors fought hard to save Skylar. When her pulse was lost, they got it back.
Tragically, our relief was short lived.
At 11.30pm, our world fell apart when our beautiful and big-hearted daughter slipped away.
Ash and I were shell-shocked. It was unthinkable.
Going home without her, we broke the devastating news to Skylar’s twin and brother.
‘Skylar’s a star in the sky now,’ we told them. ‘She’s looking down on us.’ So they decided to go outside to talk to her.
‘We miss you,’ they said, blowing kisses to the sky every morning and night.
Saying goodbye to our angel has been shattering.
If we’d known other strains of meningococcal existed, we’d have paid for the jabs in a heartbeat.
The C-strain jab is currently included in the National Immunisation Program. Vaccines for other strains are available, but aren’t included.
Two months on, we can’t bear the thought of another family suffering like this. That’s why we’ve started our campaign – Share a ’cino with Skylar.
We’ve asked cafes across Australia to give away free babycinos until the meningococcal B vaccine is added to the immunisation schedule. We officially launch on January 12, Skylar’s third birthday.
Already, dozens of cafes have signed up. And we held our official launch on January 12, Skylar and Rhainer's third birthday.
We want parents to learn about meningococcal while sharing a ’cino with their babies. And we’ve spoken with the NT health minister to push for change.
This disease robbed us of our wonderful little girl, but we will make sure Skylar’s legacy saves lives. ●
Share A Cino With Skylar has an appeal on Go Fund Me here.
■ Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death or disability within hours.
■ Symptoms in young children include irritability, a refusal to eat, difficulty walking and lethargy.
■ The telltale pinprick rash only develops in the later, critical stages.
■ There are five main strains in Australia, A, B, C, W and Y; most cases are caused by B and W strains.
■ A vaccine for the B strain launched in 2014 and is only available privately.
■ A free jab protecting against the C strain is
part of the National Immunisation Program and is recommended for all youngsters at 12 months.
■ A third jab, recommended for travellers, protects against other strains, but is not subsidised.
■ In New Zealand, vaccination is recommended but not funded.