‘Your daughter’s gonna die’: Family recounts Thai holiday horror

Queensland toddler Lilliana Sheridan recently celebrated her very first birthday, but it was a birthday her parents feared she wouldn’t live to see.

In October, as the family was on a month-long holiday in Thailand, Lilliana almost lost her life — and then, one of her legs — to meningococcal disease.

The sickness set in with terrifying speed, bringing the eight-month-old baby close to death within. With hardly any warning, her parents Jai Sheridan and Elisha Robinson were faced with the possibility of returning home to the Gold Coast without her.

Now Ms Robinson has revealed terrifying details of the day in Thailand when her daughter woke up healthy and was “dying by lunchtime”.

Lilliana Sheridan, now aged 1, survived meningococcal disease that struck during a family holiday in Thailand.Source:Supplied

Lilliana with her parents Jai Sheridan and Elisha Robinson after returning home from the Gold Coast after her ordeal. Picture: Glenn HampsonSource:News Corp Australia

“She’d woken up and she’d had a fever. And she’d never been sick before, she’d never even had a cold or anything like that,” Ms Robinson said through the family’s insurer, Zoom Travel Insurance.

“I was laying on the couch with Lilli and I felt her starting to burn up. She went really limp of a sudden, and I looked at her and she was still sort of awake, but her lips were blue and her fingernails were blue.

“So we took her into Phuket town and it was just the beginning of a nightmare.”

Lilliana was given oxygen and intravenous fluids as doctors ran tests to find out why the infant was rapidly deteriorated.

The results confirmed she had meningococcal sepsis, a bacterial infection of the bloodstream and blood vessels that was turning her blood to poison.

“They were saying to us, your daughter’s gonna die,” Ms Robinson said.

Lilliana in hospital with mum and dad.Source:Supplied

Doctors managed to save her legs from amputation.Source:Supplied

A sickening purple rash — meningococcal’s dreaded physical symptom — broke out on Lilliana’s legs and her skin turned gangrenous. Over three terrifying days her heart rate spiked to 230 beats per minute and Elisha and Jai were told to prepare for Lilliana going into cardiac arrest.

The family also faced the horror of discovering the hospital had no O negative blood for their baby, prompting a desperate Ms Robinson to make an emotional plea on social media for donations.

“My baby is dying in Bangkok Hospital Phuket town,” she wrote on Facebook. “She needs o neg blood.

“Please help me someone please I’m begging I can’t lose my baby.”

After Lilliana’s condition stabilised, she was sent to the Samitivej Hospital Bangkok where doctors spent two excruciating hours scraping away the rotten, infected flesh on the baby’s legs in the hope they could be saved. Thankfully, they were.

Lilliana was just eight months old when she contracted the disease.Source:Supplied

Lilliana spent two weeks in intensive car before she was flown home to the Gold Coast, where the now one-year-old still needs skin graft surgeries, steroid injections and physiotherapy as she recovers from the meningococcal that ravaged her small body.

Ms Robinson is talking about Lilliana’s story to warn parents about meningococcal disease and the need to take out travel insurance.

She said her insurer, Zoom Travel Insurance, paid more than $113,000 in claims for Lilliana and the family.

As well as covering the medical and transport costs, Zoom helped get Thai medical reports explained to Lilliana’s parents, arranged for an Australian critical care nurse to be on the ground, organised air ambulances and flight permits, and arranged flights for the family to return home.

“They supported not only Lilli, me and Jai but covered expenses of my parents, brother and sister-in-law too,” Ms Robinson said.

“We were in a foreign country and my baby was dying, and they made us feel less alone.”

Lilliana recovering in a Bangkok hospital after the surgery on her legs.Source:Supplied


Babies and children up to the age of five, and those aged 15 to 24 years are among the most vulnerable to meningococcal disease, which sees between 150 to 350 cases in Australia each year.

Parents were warned of a surge in cases of the killer disease in November and after the death of a seven-year-old boy in southwest Sydney.

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that causes blood poisoning, as in Lilliana’s case, or inflammation of the lining of the brain. It is easily spread and progresses rapidly.

“The period between onset of first symptoms to being critically ill can be a matter of hours,” said Meningococcal Australia director Eliza Ault-Connell, who survived the disease.

“You can seem healthy at breakfast and be dead by dinner.”

Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, a rash of red-purple spots or bruises, aversion to bright lights, nausea and vomiting.

The baby girl was flown to Bangkok from Phuket.Source:Supplied

Lilliana’s parents rushed her to medical help after she came down with a fever.Source:Supplied

“Not all symptoms may be present at once, and young children may have less specific symptoms, including irritability, high-pitched crying and refusal to eat,” Ms Ault-Connell said.

“Meningococcal disease can affect anyone, however certain groups, including infants and small children, young adults, smokers, people who practice intimate kissing, especially with more than one partner, and travellers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease are particularly at risk.

“People who have meningococcal symptoms should see a doctor urgently. If you have already seen a doctor but symptoms continue to worsen, consult your doctor again or go to the emergency department.”

Zoom Travel Insurance arranged for Lilliana’s wider family to visit.Source:Supplied

There are two separate vaccinations for the five main strands of meningococcal disease. Protection from the A, C, W and Y strains can be given from the age of two months and is on the Australian National Immunisation Program for children 12 months and older.

Parents who want to immunise their children earlier than 12 months will have to fork out between $60 and $100 for a dose.

The Meningococcal B vaccine can be given from six weeks of age. It isn’t on the National Immunisation Program and costs between $120 to $150 a dose.

Different states offer free vaccination programs for certain strains and age groups.

Ms Ault-Connell said recommended parents talk to the GP and become educated about the devastating disease.

Lilliana in hospital with dad Jai.Source:Supplied

“Check your child’s vaccinations are up to date with the Australian Immunisation Register,” she said.

“Know the early signs and know how to seek treatment if you suspect the disease. With meningococcal’s rapid onset, knowledge can save a life.”

Lilliana’s mum said she hoped parents could learn from her family’s horrific family holiday.

“Don’t be afraid to look silly because your child’s life may be on the line; trust in your motherly instincts,” Ms Robinson said.

“I hope Lilli’s story can help prevent anyone else ever having to go through this, and acts as a warning for anyone who still gets on plane without insurance.”

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