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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 11914

Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (10:57): This weekend I will take part in the 2011 Walk for Sarah, in Camden. Sarah Hilt is a courageous local from my electorate who was struck down by meningococcal septicaemia in October 2004. Meningococcal septicaemia occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream and multiplies uncontrollably, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin. The illness is usually associated with a purple rash and can lead to death within hours, or permanent disabilities such as scars and amputations.

To help raise awareness of this condition I would like to share Sarah's story with you today. According to her parents, Gary and Jillian, Sarah was one of those people who could make a success of whatever she put her mind to. She was born at Camden Hospital in 1985, and a few years later started kindergarten at Cobbitty Public School. Sarah loved school and became involved in dance, choir, band and anything that resembled a sport. She left her mark at Cobbitty Public School as a very popular school captain. She spent her high school years at Macarthur Anglican School, where she played flute in the school band and sang in the jazz band. She also made her parents proud by playing soccer at school, club and state levels—a very talented young lady. In year 12, Sarah became a school prefect and house captain and studied hard to achieve her place at Sydney University to study a Bachelor of Arts degree.

But on 4 October 2004, Sarah was struck down by meningococcal septicaemia and was rushed to RPA Hospital. There, her life teetered on the edge for a few weeks as she fought the ravages of the disease. At the end of those traumatic weeks, doctors announced that Sarah was going to make it. Against all the odds she had survived, but her survival came at a cost. She had spent nine months in hospital fighting for her life. The bacteria ravaged her kidneys and body. Her left forearm, the fingers and thumb of her right hand and both legs were amputated. Sarah has since undergone countless operations and skin grafts and put up a brave fight against infections and kidney failure.

Despite what she had been through, Sarah refused to let this disease stop her from achieving her dreams. She had a successful year at university in 2006; her results were great and she excelled in all her subjects. But, sadly, early in 2007, her kidneys failed and she was forced to start dialysis and prepare for a kidney transplant. Sarah managed to continue her uni studies throughout 2007, despite needing four dialysis sessions every day. What a brave young lady. To make things worse, Sarah also suffered from bone infections and had to have her left leg amputated below the knee and her right leg further amputated through the knee. The surgery took place and, due to many life-threatening complications, Sarah was in hospital for all of January 2008. After a torrid year of ups and downs and medical tests, Sarah had a kidney transplant in November that year. Her dad, Gary, gave Sarah one of his kidneys, a beautiful gift that resulted in his daughter's health improving tenfold within two hours of surgery.

Sarah is a quadruple amputee. There are only five other people in her situation in New South Wales. She faces many problems, especially the ongoing need for artificial limbs. The Macarthur community comes together each year to walk with Sarah and help her raise awareness of the condition. The walk also raises money to help Sarah and her family cover costs associated with her treatment and her prosthetic limbs, which wear out every eight years. These prosthetic limbs are very expensive. A prosthetic hand on its own costs around $70,000 to buy and maintain. About $50,000 was raised in 2008 to buy Sarah a computerised leg, and it was well worth the money. The new leg gave Sarah a level of mobility that she had not experienced since the disease ravaged her body in 2004.

The Sarah Hilt Walk is organised by the Sarah Hilt Foundation Trust, a charity which helps Sarah to achieve her goals and assists other sufferers of meningococcal disease. The trustees of the foundation should be very proud of themselves for setting up this charity so that Sarah can overcome the impact of this disease. Through her brave fight against the physical and mental effects of meningococcal disease, Sarah has tackled new obstacles and has overcome adversities that the rest of us would find impossible to comprehend.

I am proud to say that the compassion of the Macarthur community has shown Sarah that she is not alone in her battle against meningococcal disease. She is a courageous young woman who loves her family and her community. She has become a great role model for young people in my electorate. She has proved that no matter what adversity life throws at you it is important to stay true to yourself and to fight to achieve your dreams and goals.

I am looking forward to walking with Sarah and her family this weekend and I wish her all the health and happiness that she deserves. She is one hell of a brave woman, who is bringing this awareness of meningococcal disease to my community and the broader community of Australia. We do not know how lucky we are with our lives, in relation to the impacts that occur with young children in our communities. This young lady is one of the bravest women I have ever come across. I am looking forward to having an enjoyable weekend with her to bring this awareness to my community.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): I thank the member for Macarthur for that very inspirational story.