There is nothing that Danielle Weymark? has allowed severe disability, more than 70 operations and constant pain to stop her from doing, including becoming a champion equestrian – and, now, a mother to twins.
The meningococcal meningitis septicaemia survivor lost much of her left arm, right hand and parts of both feet to the rare disease, contracted when she was 14 months old.
“They don’t know me and what I can do.” – Danielle Weymark
Defying doctors’ concerns, the 22-year-old Hawkesbury woman reached 37 and a half weeks before undergoing a caesarean section to deliver babies Oliver and Lara at Nepean Hospital last week.
Danielle Weymark with her partner Mathew Johnson and their new born twins, Oliver and Lara. Danielle lost her left arm, right hand and most toes to meningitis as a baby. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
“The medical staff at the hospital were just blown away that she got that far,” her mother, Leanne Weymark, said.
“She’s been through a lot more than most people would ever dream about. She has arthritis in her legs, she has a lot of pain. She doesn’t whinge, she just gets on with it.”
Life for Danielle and her partner Mathew Johnson, 21, is now consumed by feeds, sleep patterns and impatience to begin breaking in the brumby foal the new mother has as the babies’ first pony.
Danielle Weymark, 22, has won a number of dressage competitions and is aiming to ride for Australia in the Paralympic Games. Photo: Supplied
“Some people at my antenatal appointments were a bit concerned [about me not being able to cope], but they don’t know me and what I can do. They just see what’s in front of them,” Danielle said.
“I haven’t come across anything I can’t do yet, we’ve been breastfeeding and changing nappies.”
As a child, she challenged therapists who tried to teach her to write with one hand by also learning to write with her left arm.
With a big toe grafted onto her right hand to act as a thumb and self-taught dexterity, she started horse riding aged eight and, at 16, began competing in dressage on her first horse. She designed her own reins, taking her sketch to the local saddle maker, and now competes in both para-sport and open competitions, with wins in interstate and international meets.
But Danielle’s triumph of parenthood comes with a warning.
Since meeting expecting parents at her antenatal classes, she has witnessed a lack of understanding around meningococcal vaccinations.
“When people talk about vaccinations, a lot of people have the wrong information. They think that once they get one needle, their baby’s covered for everything,” she said.
“Just don’t assume that once you get one vaccine, you’re covered for all strains, because you’re not.”
Although doctors were not able to isolate the strain she contracted, it was suspected of being meningococcal B.
Australian babies are often vaccinated against meningococcal C at 12 months and a privately available meningococcal B vaccine is yet to be rolled out as part of the national vaccination schedule.
Vicky Sheppeard?, director of Communicable Diseases, NSW Health, said that the number of cases of the disease has been falling over the past 10 years due in part to the meningococcal C vaccination program.
“However, several strains of meningococcal bacteria cause disease in Australia. This means young people who have had the meningococcal C vaccine should still be on the lookout for symptoms,” she said.
There have been 12 cases and two deaths in NSW this year from meningitis caused by invasive meningococcal disease, according to NSW Health. Last year, there were 44 cases.
One in 10 cases of bacterial meningitis and related septicaemia proves fatal. Of those who survive in Australia, one in 30 has severe skin scarring or loss of limbs, and one in 30 has severe brain damage.
Leanne Weymark echoed her daughter’s calls for parents to stay vigilant about the dangers of meningococcal and called on the government to step up its funding towards the meningococcal B vaccination.
“It’s just a shame that the B strain is not funded, it would be good if the government could pull their finger out about that,” she said.
Danielle, who aims to represent Australia in dressage at the Paralympic Games, has her own message for fellow meningitis survivors.
“Just keep trying, find your own way to do things, if someone suggests a way to do it and you find a better way, don’t listen to them. They don’t know you.”