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Whanganui parents who lost their daughter to meningitis call for a vaccine subsidy for all young adults

Warning that anyone can be struck down with meningitis at any time, the heartbroken parents hope others will learn from their tragic loss.

By Fleur Guthrie
Feeling stressed and unwell amid her first-year university exams, 18-year-old Chloe Boniface posted a selfie to Instagram just after midnight on November 7, 2018. Sadly, it was to be her last time on social media.
By 5am, mere hours later, the aspiring marine biologist had died of meningitis, alone in her Wellington dorm room at Victoria University.
Staring at that final post, Chloe's heartbroken parents Tarsha and Ricky find it hard to believe they have lost the "light of our lives".
"To us, she looks beautiful and perfectly fine. You would not have thought she didn't have long to live," tells Tarsha tearfully from the family's home in Whanganui.
Chloe's chilling final Instagram post.
The day before, Chloe had texted her mum to say she was feeling sick and fatigued, with an achy body, a headache, and eyes that were becoming sensitive to the light. When they spoke on the phone that night, Tarsha says she never picked up a feeling that Chloe should seek urgent medical attention.
"She didn't sound like she was seriously ill," recalls the grieving mother-of-two, 39. "We both thought she was rundown from exam season and getting a cold or a migraine. I told her to take a Panadol, keep her fluids up and go to bed.
"Meningitis was the furthest thing from my mind. It just wasn't on our radar. I would've thought of so many other things it could have been first, like measles, for example."
Dorm friends then invited Chloe to eat something with them for dinner, before she returned to her room. None of them saw her again.
"At 10.30pm, she texted me to ask if she should eat some plain chips after throwing up," says Tarsha, a bank worker.
"I was already asleep so replied the next morning and told her I hoped she was feeling better. I texted again on my lunch break to see if she was OK, but it didn't surprise me to not hear back from her because I knew exams were on."
An impending feeling of dread only started creeping in, she reveals, when son Corbin, 13, rang her at work to say police had visited the home and were heading to the building site Ricky was working on.
"When Ricky broke down on the phone and told me Chloe had passed away, I collapsed in the street. Our world just crashed from that moment."
"It didn't seem real," adds Ricky quietly. "It didn't sink in until we saw her on the bed in Wellington. The purple rash was on the inside of her arms. Something that gave us a bit of peace was that she would've died in her sleep when the infection attacked her brain. So hopefully she wasn't in any pain."
Chloe, with her parents, all dolled up for her year 13 ball.
Now the grieving parents are calling for a vaccine to be available and subsidised to all young adults under 20, and want to warn other parents whose children are heading off to live in university dorms or boarding school.
"Sitting in the hospital morgue, we googled meningitis and the main point which stood out to us was that first-year university students were at such a high risk due to sharing cutlery, drinks or even cigarettes," explains Ricky, also 39. "We had no idea Chloe was in the 'at risk' group.
"When she left home for uni, we had talked about the dangers of walking alone at night and protecting her drinks from getting spiked if she went to a club. Not once did we think about talking to her about meningitis and its symptoms.
"The hostel she lived in was nice and had clean facilities," Ricky tells, but he claims there wasn't anything mentioned at the university open days or information in any of the packs Chloe brought home.
"If we knew then what we know now, we would have paid for a vaccine 1000 times over."
Chloe, aged three.
A free vaccination programme has now been started in Northland to halt the spread of meningococcal W. Chloe was infected with the B strain of the bacterial disease, which is spread through saliva, coughing and sneezing.
However, with media attention focused on those with low income or poor access to health care, the couple are frustrated people may think meningitis discriminates.
"It doesn't," explains Tarsha. "It can kill anybody at any time."
With heavy hearts, they say the legacy left by their gorgeous daughter – an A-student who was studying marine biology and physical geography – is of being someone who wanted to make a difference and was so well loved by so many.
Tarsha, Ricky and Corbin still can't believe Chloe is gone.
The family received Chloe's exam results in the mail just before Christmas and though they were pleased that she had done so well, they were also "gutted" Chloe couldn't see them for herself.
"I think she was going to do amazing things," reflects Tarsha. "She wanted to work with manta rays, build sanctuaries, and do anything to save and protect marine wildlife.
"She was the type of kid who encouraged us to do better. We never recycled, even though she told us to. But now we do.
"Chloe turned 19 years old on February 11. That day wasn't an easy day and I didn't feel right celebrating her birthday when she'll always be forever 18 to us."

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