Meningococcal sufferer speaks at Penrhos College’s annual Amanda Young Fair


Melissa Groenewold (left) with students Stella McLaughlin, Annie Messina, Grace Pooley and Vivienne Holt.
Melissa Groenewold (left) with students Stella McLaughlin, Annie Messina, Grace Pooley and Vivienne Holt.

WHEN Melissa Groenewold advocates for child vaccination, she is speaking from personal experience.

The 29-year-old mother of two, diagnosed with meningococcal disease in 2005 at age 17, spent nine months in hospital and had her hands and feet amputated.

In an effort to educate others about the disease, Ms Groenewold last week attended Penrhos College’s annual Amanda Young Fair, which had an Australiana theme this year.

Organised by Year 12 students, including Stella McLaughlin, Annie Messina, Grace Pooley and Vivienne Holt, the fair is held in honour of former student Amanda Young who died from the same disease when she was 18.

“I had woken up with flu-like symptoms but thought nothing of it,” Ms Groenewold.

“I felt very dizzy and a while later my body ached everywhere and my joints hurt; I’ve never felt that way before or since.

“It was then that my mum came to check on me and said I was really fitful in my sleep.

“When I woke at about 1.30am my legs felt numb like I had pins and needles; we checked them and there was a large purple splotchy rash.”

At the time of her diagnosis Ms Groenewold was working at a childcare centre and had recently been unwell.

She was vaccinated  against meningococcal C in 2003 but the mutating bacteria has various strains that can be carried and transmitted via the mucus of resistant persons.

Ms Groenewold said she was diagnosed with meningococcal B, which was not common and there was no vaccine available at the time.

“If you’re not immunised against, don’t have any natural immunity to or if your immune system has for some reason become weakened, contracting the disease is far more likely,” she said.

A recent announcement by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline that Menveo, the only vaccine for the ACWY strains of meningococcal that can be used in babies under 12 months, was out of stock because of a disruption in manufacturing and high demand has Ms Groenewold worried.

“It is incredibly scary for me to think that we have something to protect our children but it is not accessible to us,” she said.

“We have been to the doctor and have a script ready to get our five-month-old Charlotte vaccinated, but unfortunately with the shortage we may not be able to get hold of it.”

The Amanda Young Foundation, dedicated to reducing deaths in WA from meningococcal disease, will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.

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