Toddler’s sudden death came without warning

Ruby Smart was just 22 months old and had been immunised with the pneumococcal vaccine

Parents mourning the loss of their 22-month-old daughter to suspected meningococcal disease say the illness came without warning.

Ruby Olivia Smart, from Tauranga, died last Thursday night from what doctors believe was meningococcal disease. Her parents, Katherine and Dion Smart, said that Ruby appeared suddenly agitated after waking from a nap at 9.20pm.  “One moment she had been sharing icecream with Dion, watching TV and cuddling up to me,” said Ms Smart. “When she woke, she jumped up, but wasn’t really there, just staring straight ahead with pinpoint pupils.”

The parents called an ambulance, and on the ride to Tauranga Hospital, the toddler developed a rash associated with meningococcal disease.  Her breathing stopped at the hospital. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her for 25 minutes, but Ms Smart asked them to stop. Ruby was pronounced dead at 11.50pm.  “I want to give advice to mothers but I feel like I can’t give any warnings,” said Ms Smart.

“There’s nothing we could have done. It just happened so quickly.”  Ruby had suffered from a stomach bug earlier in the week, but her parents felt she was recovering. Medical officer of health Phil Shoemack said the last meningococcal death in the Bay of Plenty was several years ago. Two or three people were diagnosed with the disease each week in New Zealand, and one in 20 of them died.

Mr Smart said Ruby had struggled with illness after being born with a cleft palate and low immunity.  “She had seen so many professionals because of her health. They all agreed … she was a lovely child. “She was a bouncy, happy baby who would approach a stranger and be happy to sit on their knee.”  Ruby was farewelled on Tuesday at the Mt Maunganui surf club, where her parents were married and close to the water they said she loved.

Her father said it was difficult to celebrate a life of someone so young, but they tried to capture her bubbliness in the service.  Songs from the musical Mamma Mia – from which Ruby plucked her first words – were played, as well as Muppets tunes and the song Ruby Tuesday. Mr Smart said the most difficult part was waiting for Ruby’s elder sister, Jorja, to ask where she was.

“Every morning, after about half an hour, she asks. We had to tell her Ruby had gone to heaven to be with [family cat] Cuddles.”


A baby or child may:

* Have a fever, be sleepy, floppy, hard to wake.
* Be unsettled or crying.
* Dislike bright lights.
* Refuse drink or food.
* Vomit.
* Have a rash.

An adult may have similar symptoms and:

* Have a stiff neck, joint pain, aching muscles and a headache, or be delirious.

If you notice these symptoms, do not delay. Ring a doctor or medical centre and insist on immediate action.

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