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Every second
counts when
meningitis hits
Myles Hume
[email protected]
Within three hours, Claire and
Gerard Rushton went from
watching their daughter walk into
an ambulance to being told by
doctors there was nothing they
could do to save her life.
They never expected to lose
their youngest child, Courtenay
Rushton, when she fell ill with flulike symptoms during a family
holiday in Twizel. On January 3 last
year – four days after she was
admitted to hospital – the 16-yearold died of suspected
meningococcal disease.
The Rushtons are speaking at
length publicly for the first time to
highlight how deadly
meningococcal disease can be and
how easily it can be avoided.
‘‘She got the best of care from
Twizel, to Timaru to Christchurch,
it’s the disease just is so violent and
quick,’’ Claire Rushton said.
Gerard Rushton said the disease
was a ‘‘silent killer’’.
It is a message that sticks with
them. The Ashburton couple wear
wristbands, inspired by their
daughter, etched with the words
‘‘every second counts’’.
Courtenay complained of feeling
feverish and unwell on the road to
their holiday destination. Doctors
initially suspected she had the flu
but after a third visit to the GP in
two days, she was sent to Timaru
Hospital in an ambulance. Her
condition deteriorated on the way.
A rash, an important but an often
late sign, did not show until she
reached the hospital.
‘‘They took her away and quite a
while later they came to meet us,
took us into a room and said that
she was dying in front of their eyes
and didn’t know what to do with
her,’’ Gerard Rushton said. ‘‘From
seeing her walk into the ambulance
to being met by these doctors a
couple of hours later to tell us she’s
dying is just, you know. . .’’
Meningococcal disease can be
difficult to diagnose initially
because its symptoms can appear
as other illnesses.
Courtenay was in intensive care
for eight to nine hours, before she
was flown to Christchurch Hospital.
Despite her condition, she jokingly
conviction among trust leaders’ ‘‘significant
and disturbing’’ backgrounds
‘‘If what you’re saying proves to
be true, it’s extraordinarily concerning for our young people,’’
Williams said.
‘‘It is not . . . healthy in the long
term for . . people with significant
and quite disturbing histories like
that to be setting up services for
young people. Now that it’s on my
radar, I’m certainly going to be
making some inquiries.’’
Christchurch City councillor
Paul Lonsdale said he was ‘‘horrified’’ to learn about the
backgrounds of those involved
with Te Poaka Tipua.
‘‘There’s no question it’s a
recipe for disaster,’’ he said.
The trust approached the
Hagley-Ferrymead Board asking
for funding last year. That was
declined, Lonsdale said but he was
unable to immediately recall why.
‘‘Your investigation has pulled
up quite a lot of information about
the particular personnel involved
[that the board didn’t know] and
now with that bit of information I
think we need to have a bit of a discussion about what we can do, if
The Press understands police
are also concerned about activity
at the trust’s headquarters.
This week, Inspector Corrie
Parnell said police had received no
formal complaints about the building. Staff visited the site in October
and November last year as part of
normal policing activities. It was
referred to the council for a compliance check because occupants
indicated they had been staying
there, Parnell said.
enforcement unit manager Anne
Columbus said the council’s
assessment of the activities at the
address ‘‘indicate there is no evidence of commercial sexual
services being offered’’.
Blair Ensor
[email protected]
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An investigation by The Press has
exposed links between the sex
industry and a charitable trust
apparently set up to help vulnerable youth.
It also reveals the involvement
of a former political figure
convicted for giving cash and
cigarettes to a teenage boy in
exchange for sex.
Christchurch-based Te Poaka
Tipua Charitable Trust, which
operates out of an old office block
on Buckleys Rd, Linwood, was
incorporated in September.
Its paperwork shows it was
established to help povertystricken youths, particularly those
in the eastern suburbs.
The Press investigation has
❯❯ Former Mana Party organiser
Nicholas Kayne Nitro, 36, also
known as Nikora, helped establish
Te Poaka Tipua Charitable Trust.
In 2012, Nitro was convicted of
receiving commercial sexual
services from a 16-year-old boy.
The age limit is 18 under the Prostitution Reform Act.
❯❯ Te Poaka Tipua chairperson
Veronica Rongomairatahi Stuart,
55, has convictions for fraud and
previously operated a male sex
club called The Closet with Nitro
at a site on Ferry Rd. The pair
were both directors of a company
called Closet Holdings.
❯❯ A website continues to advertise a male sex club called The
Backroom at Te Poaka Tipua’s
Buckleys Rd headquarters.
❯❯ Former sex workers frequent
the site.
After learning details of the
investigation, Christchurch East
MP Poto Williams called on community leaders to ‘‘look seriously
at what alternatives we can put in
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❯❯ Meningitis is an inflammation
of the membrane lining of the
brain and spinal cord.
❯❯ Meningococcal bacteria are
shared person to person by
secretions from the nose or
throat. Spread by kissing,
sneezing or coughing.
❯❯ About 100 cases of
meningococcal disease in New
Zealand each year.
❯❯ Between five and eight people
died from the disease each year
between 2006 and 2010, while 13
died in 2011 and six in 2012.
❯❯ There are many types of
meningitis. Most cases of viral
meningitis are mild.
. . . They said
that she was
dying in front of
their eyes and
didn’t know what
to do with her
Gerard Rushton
told the helicopter crew she needed
a double bed at a private hospital.
She was put in an induced coma
but later died with family by her
The Rushtons have few answers
over Courtenay’s death. It is not
known how or where she
contracted the disease.
They have relived those vital
moments but accept they could not
have done more. ‘‘You have got to
be careful going hunting for the
‘what ifs?’. I mean, you could turn
yourself inside out doing that,’’
Gerard Rushton said.
Courtenay, a boarder at Rangi
Ruru Girls’ School, was bright,
athletic and popular. ‘‘She never
skited about that. She always
perceived herself as an underachiever,’’ Gerard Rushton said.
Netball, ballet, basketball,
hockey, rowing and kapa haka filled
her spare time. She even played
lock for the school rugby team.
❯❯ Continued on A2
Feverish: Ashburton teenager Courtenay Rushton died of suspected
meningococcal disease on January 3 last year after falling ill with flu-like
❯❯ Continued on A2
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