What Kyly Clarke learnt from meeting families affected by meningococcal disease.

Thanks to our brand partner, KnowMeningococcal

So many parents say that having a child is akin to allowing your heart to freely walk around outside your body.

It’s certainly a sentiment shared by model, author and TV presenter Kyly Clarke, whose main priority since becoming a mother to daughter Kelsey Lee a year and a half ago has been to ensure her child’s health and educate herself about childhood diseases.

This passion has led her to become an ambassador for Know Meningococcal, a newly launched campaign and website created to educate parents on what Meningococcal disease is, how to recognise the signs and symptoms of Meningococcal, how to understand who is the most at risk, and to make informed decisions around prevention and treatment.

Kyly Clarke with husband Michael Clarke and daughter Kelsey Lee. Image: Supplied.

Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious illness, with sudden onset that can potentially turn life-threatening.

While it is uncommon, the impact of the disease can be devastating. According to Know Meningococcal, up to 10 percent of those infected will die.

“Know Meningococcal is a website that helps parents understand more about the disease and the signs and symptoms that come with the disease. This information is so important, especially because some of the symptoms can be similar to the ones your child can have when they have the flu," Clarke told Mamamia when she stopped by our office.

"The symptoms can be things like vomiting and diarrhoea, which you can misconstrue as a different illness. So even something like having cold hands and feet can be a symptom. It’s important to know what the symptoms are so you can act quickly."

Kyly Clarke discussing Know Meningococcal with Mamamia Editor Laura Brodnik. Image: Supplied.

Clarke said that since she and husband Michael Clarke, former international cricketer and captain of Australia, became new parents, the biggest lesson she has learned was to trust her instincts. To never worry about looking like a "hypochondriac" parent who runs to the doctor when they don't have to.

“My daughter Kelsey Lee is one and a half now," said Clarke. "And we’ve always been very mindful of her health and her immunisations.

"I take my child’s health very seriously. All parents should be informed about vaccinations and ensure they don’t just trust Google over their doctor who has factual information. What is harmful for your child would be contracting Meningococcal and the long-term impacts that has on a child and their family.

“When you're a new mum everyone always says ‘oh don’t worry! You’ll be rushing to the doctors every single time she has a runny nose'.

"So, sometimes I think ‘OK, let’s not be those parents. Let’s not be hypochondriacs'. But now that we are parents we understand that we are not meant to be GPs. We cannot be expected to recognise every symptom and that’s why it’s OK to put them into the care of a professional.

Kyly Clarke with daughter Kelsey Lee. Image: Supplied.

“That’s where I would like to say to other parents ‘fair enough, don’t be too overprotective but also don’t be too complacent’ because I think you can also take that too far. The only person you are going to be blaming is yourself.

“People say 'Oh, you won’t be so fussy with the second one' and I think to myself 'Oh, don't you worry, I will be just as fussy the second time around'. My message to other parents is 'be the strong parent you want to be. Go with your gut'."

In her role as a Know Meningococcal Ambassador, Clarke has met with a number of families affected by the disease and heard their stories, including a mother called Karen and her young daughter Jenna, who contracted the disease as a toddler and lost her hands as a result.

“From talking with Karen and meeting her daughter Jenna I’ve learned that children are so amazing. They are brought into this world to forever make you smile, no matter what they go through in life," said Clarke.

"It was so interesting to hear her and her husband say that the strong person in all of this is Jenna and I understand what she is saying. I’m not a GP, and the best person for any of this kind of advice is a GP. But from meeting with Karen and Jenna and becoming involved with Know Meningococcal what I have learnt as a parent is obviously to monitor and know the symptoms.

"Once they do have a fever you could mistake it for something like food poisoning, especially if they started vomiting.

"The next symptom to me that really stood out as something important to be aware of is that chill in the baby’s body. Which you are not going to know about unless you touch their hands and their feet.

"After I learnt that, I would not be looking for further symptoms, I would be taking my child straight to the hospital. The first 24 hours is completely vital when it comes to this disease."

Clarke told us that she took on this campaign to be "the voice for my fellow community of parents" and be "that person who will get heard, so that other parents will be open to having these conversations with their GPs."

"We need to widen the understanding around this disease so that people can make an educated decision and be more proactive about health," she added.

This content was created with thanks to our brand partner GSK.

Parents, make sure to ask your GP about Meningococcal disease, and what vaccines your child can get to protect them.

For further information, visit Know Meningococcal.

*CDC VPD manual Chapter 8: Meningococcal disease.