‘If you don’t die from it, you’re maimed for life’
LIKE many parents, Kirsten McGinty had never heard of meningococcal disease - until it ruthlessly stole the life of her beloved eldest daughter two years ago this month.
Since losing Zoe - a bubbly and otherwise healthy and fit 20-year-old Brisbane university student - on September 3, 2017, Ms McGinty has become a tireless campaigner against the killer infection, raising public awareness and pushing hard for preventive vaccinations to be made accessible and affordable to all families.
She has taken the fight to Canberra, as well as to the State Government, in a role she created for herself - spokesman of Meningococcal Queensland.
Despite ongoing personal heartache, her selfless work has already seen the number of vaccinations soar five-fold, according to GPs and earned her a Pride of Australia nomination.
She has helped broaden the eligible age range for the federally-funded vaccinations against the A, C, W, Y, strains, and continues to fight for the costly B vaccination to be added to the national immunisation schedule.
You need to be vaccinated against all five strains to be fully protected.
Remarkably too, the grieving single mother has counselled survivors of "the most horrific disease imaginable" and their families as they try to recover and rebuild.
"You don't do anything wrong to catch meningococcal," said Ms McGinty, 49, also mum to Bridget, 19, and twins Ben and Zac, 16.
"It's random and brutal. If you don't die from it, you can be maimed for life, lose limbs, organs, suffer brain damage and dreadful scarring.
"Zoe came home from the gym that Saturday morning, made herself breakfast and then said she felt unwell and was going to lie down.
"By 2am the next morning, she was dead.
"The only cure is immunisation - we have the vaccines, so let's get on with it."
Meningococcal is an acute bacterial infection that attacks the body's organs, causing them to rapidly shut down.
The bacteria lives in the nasal passages (carriers are unaware they have it) and is transferred through close contact such as kissing, coughing and living in confined quarters such as university dorms and military barracks.
Those most at risk are the very young and teenagers and adults under 25.
It can strike, however, at any age.
Symptoms include headache, fever, vomiting, muscle aches, a stiff neck and, in many cases, a purplish-red rash.
"I thought Zoe just had a gastro bug, like all my kids have had over the years. I could not have been more wrong. I live with this pain and guilt every day," said Ms McGinty, who since Zoe's death has taken on another job, working for Youngcare, which helps young people with high-care needs find age-appropriate homes.
Now in their 15th year, the Pride of Australia awards seek to unearth and honour ordinary Australians who make an extraordinary contribution to communities.
News Corp Australia, publisher of The Courier-Mail, is partnering with Australia Post and Seven News to stage the 2019 awards.
Nominations are open at prideofaustralia.com.au until October 21.