Calling 111 is usually the first response to an emergency – but Northland dad Greg Bracey’s decision not to call an ambulance may have helped to save his son’s life. In August, Callum (16) was living in the sleep-out at his parents’ Tutukaka home when he became seriously ill with meningitis.
After waking in the middle of the night vomiting, dizzy and unable to stand, Callum knew he needed a doctor but couldn’t walk the 100m to the house to raise the alarm. “I was shaking, I couldn’t walk and I didn’t know what was wrong. I tried to get up but I couldn’t walk so I sent a text to Dad.”
“Dad I need help” was the message Callum only just managed to send. When Greg rushed to the sleep-out and saw his son, he knew there was no time to waste. With his advanced training in first aid, Greg could see that his son was delirious and showing all the frightening symptoms of meningitis.
“I had no idea he would be in the state he was,” says Greg, who initially thought the message meant an intruder was on their property. “He had a high temperature, he was sensitive to light, his neck was stiff and painful and he had a rash – classic symptoms of meningitis,” says Greg.
As Callum’s condition rapidly deteriorated, Greg knew his son needed medical treatment immediately and couldn’t afford to risk waiting for an ambulance to arrive at their home, which is 40 minutes away from Whangarei Hospital. Ignoring the usual medical advice, he decided to drive his son himself.
“I was in bare feet and dirty farm shorts but there was no time to do anything. I knew I had to get Callum to the hospital straightaway,” says Greg. He half-carried Callum, who was vomiting, to his four-wheel drive and drove to Whangarei Hospital. With no traffic on the road, they made it in half an hour.
“The staff at the Whangarei emergency department had no idea we were coming, but they were fantastic and knew exactly what to do,” he says.
Once it was confirmed that Callum had meningitis he was flown to Auckland Hospital. He was diagnosed with viral meningitis, instead of the more deadly bacterial form, and after 24 hours of being treated with antibiotics, he was discharged. The family still can't believe how quickly Callum’s condition deteriorated – when he went to bed that night he just had a headache and a runny nose.
A keen surfer, Callum says he had never thought twice about the deadly disease. “I initially brushed it off and thought of it as something that would never happen to me,” he says. “It comes on so quickly. If it was to happen to my siblings or anyone around me, I now know what to look for and I would know what to do.”
Callum trusted his dad’s decision on the night and believes if he had waited for an ambulance, things could have become a lot worse. Greg wants to make sure other parents are aware of the symptoms of meningitis and can act quickly once they are recognised.
“Although Callum only had viral meningitis, it’s a scary illness that is so rapid. My heart goes out to those families who go through a lot more than what we had to.”