Zoe was her normal bubbly self at 10am, but then something went very wrong.
Here, Kirsten McGinty, 47, tells the story in her own words.
A￼s I put on another load of laundry, I heard my daughter Zoe, 20, bound through the front door.
‘Hi, Mum!’ she sang out, as she headed into the kitchen. As she did most Saturday mornings, my beautiful girl had just been to the gym.
With her long, blonde hair scooped into a messy bun, she set to work making her favourite berry pancakes. My three other kids, Bridget, 17, and twins, Zac and Ben, 14, were busy on their laptops as I buzzed around the house.
Being a single mum-of-four, my weekends could be frantic.
Zipping back past the kitchen, I noticed Zoe looked tired.
‘I’m not feeling well,’ she said. ‘I’m going to take a shower.’ ‘Have a rest darling, you’ve had a busy week,’ I replied.
She studied full-time and also worked long hours at a local bakery.
At lunchtime, she texted me from her bedroom. Mum, I feel really sick, she wrote.
Worried, I went to see and found her curled up in bed. Dressed in her pink and white pyjamas, her lovely face was scrunched up in pain.
‘Should I take you to hospital?’ I soothed. ‘It’s just a stomach bug, I’ll be okay,’ she said.
A little while later, I heard her scramble to the bathroom and start vomiting. By 6pm, she still hadn’t stopped being sick, so I picked up some medication from a nurse friend nearby.
After cooking dinner, I checked on Zoe again. ‘I’m here if you need me,’ I told her. She’ll be back to her bubbly self in the morning, I thought.
That night, I turned in early, wanting plenty of sleep before the boys’ rugby final the next day. But just before midnight, Bridget burst into my room.
‘Mum, something’s really wrong with Zoe,’ she spluttered. ‘She’s trying to get to the toilet but she can’t feel her legs.’ Dialling Triple-0, I darted to find Zoe glassy-eyed and barely able to speak. Her temperature was through the roof and she was blue around the lips. It didn’t make any sense – my girl looked fit and healthy that morning.
As the paramedics checked her vital signs, she looked up at me and held out her hand. ‘Mummy, don’t leave me,’ she whimpered.
In that moment, I knew something was very wrong. Zoe hadn’t called me ‘Mummy’ in years.
Moments later, Zoe fell unconscious. She was going into cardiac arrest. It was all a blur of shouting and beeping as paramedics worked on her chest. After finally stabilising her, she was taken straight to Emergency.‘What’s wrong with her?’ I kept asking frantically. But no-one could tell me.
I realised the nightmare was far from over when Zoe started fading again. Along with her father Shaun, 46, I watched on in horror as they tried to resuscitate her.
‘Come on, Zoe, come on, fight!’ the nurse repeated.
Touching her hand, I willed my gorgeous girl to come back to us. Suddenly, the room went quiet. Zoe was gone. ‘No,’ I whispered faintly. It was just past 2am on September 3, 2017. Only 16 hours earlier she was speaking to me, alive, healthy and happy. I wanted to cry, scream and curl up into a little ball.
‘What happened?’ I pleaded with the doctor. But he didn’t know.
Heading home, I delivered the tragic news to Bridget, Zac and Ben. They just burst into tears.
The anguish of losing my daughter was only doubled by the mystery of her death. It took 10 long days before we got any answers. The hospital said Zoe had died from septicaemia, as a result of meningococcal. Meningococcal? I thought in a daze.
Remembering which vaccinations Zoe had as a baby, I knew she’d had the meningococcal C vaccine, so how did this happen?
Instead of drowning in grief, I started to investigate. I furiously researched the vaccines available in Australia.
Horrified, I realised that Zoe wasn’t protected against any of the other meningococcal strains. She died from the W strain – which wasn’t on the immunisation schedule. How could I not have known? I asked myself.
It could have cost as little as $120 to get my girl vaccinated – to save her life.
Being 20, Zoe was in the third most vulnerable age bracket for contracting the deadly illness. If only I’d known to vaccinate my girl before it was too late.
Frustratingly, we will never know how Zoe contracted meningococcal. It could have been from the gym, her job, university or from a stray cough in the shopping centre.
Now, I want other parents to protect their children from this awful disease.
I am campaigning for all immunisations to be accessible across Australia and have raised money for informational USBs to be distributed to schools and universities. No-one should ever lose a child, especially to something so preventable.
that's life! campaign: Protect our kids
Some states offer a free meningococcal ACWY combined vaccine for adolescents, but this isn’t consistent across states.
In February, the Federal Government said the ACWY jab would be added to the PBS, but a date still hasn’t been confirmed. To immunise against the B strain, parents have to pay up to $150 per dose, with four needed. The ACWY vaccine costs between $40 and $120 with three doses needed.
In March, that’s life! launched Protect Our Kids, to ask the Government to provide FREE vaccines for all five strains – A,B,C,W,Y.The response was huge with 17,813 readers signing our petition. We have now handed the signatures to Health Minister, Greg Hunt.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.