The LaManna Family

Parents Patrick and Lynda LaManna have lived through every parent’s worst nightmare.

At just six months old, their little daughter Paris’s body went limp, and as a high fever set in, they rushed her to the RCH Emergency Department for urgent care.

“It all seemed a bit surreal. Words like meningitis and meningococcal were thrown around, and to us it was all just too much. We really did not have enough knowledge of either disease, but we knew they were both diseases which had a high risk of terrible outcomes,” said Paris’ dad Patrick.

Meningitis occurs when the membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord, called the meninges, becomes infected and swollen or inflamed. Due to the severity of the condition, early detection is essential yet the infection can be hard to diagnose as the early symptoms are very similar to other common childhood illnesses, such as the flu or mild virus. Luckily for Paris, she was seen quickly and admitted to the RCH for treatment.

Professor Nigel Curtis, Head of Infectious Disease Unit at RCH, who is working with his team on new ways to rapidly detect and treat meningitis said “Paris was one of the cases who was treated early for bacterial meningitis and as a result has made an excellent recovery”.

The hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit is one of the leading paediatric infectious diseases centres in the world, and has seen a more than five-fold increase in inpatient consultations in the last 20 years.

As well as the increasing complexity of patients needing treatment and care for infectious diseases, the rise in antibiotic-resistant bugs is an ever-present challenge. “We are now dealing with antibiotic resistance on a daily basis – often to multiple antibiotics, so we often need to use stronger and more expensive antibiotics to treat patients.”

Antibiotic resistant bacteria, or ‘superbugs’ as they are sometimes referred to, have been described by the World Health Organization as one of the greatest health threats of the 21st century.

The team, led by Nigel, are world leaders in clinical research, including in antimicrobial stewardship, which is dealing with the ‘global emergency’ of antibiotic resistance. This type of research, and Nigel’s work in rapidly diagnosing patients with meningitis, is making Nigel and his team leaders in the field.

“There are many emerging technologies that are more accurate and reliable at detecting the viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis. We are investigating new molecular tests which may increase the speed at which we can detect children with meningitis.”

Following Paris’ ordeal, her great-grandparents, Pasquale (Pat) and Helen LaManna made a generous contribution to support Nigel’s team’s research into meningitis and other infectious diseases.

“Having lived and survived through this ordeal as a family, we know just how important it is to support Professor Curtis and his work with the meningitis disease, and if any amount of money can help protect even one child and their families from this horrible disease, then our donation has gone to the right place,” Patrick said.

“Paris battled through the unknown, and if not for the wonderful doctors and nurses at The Royal Children’s, who knows what may have been. They used all their resources and skills to help heal our little girl, and it reminds us of how blessed we are to live in the best city in the world, with the best children’s hospital at our doorstep.”