Surviving meningococcal septicaemia: Ripu’s story
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As a young journalism student, Ripu survived a deadly disease after a misdiagnosis.

Surviving meningococcal septicaemia: Ripu’s story

by Daniel Sleiman See Profile
Sydney NSW, Australia
7th Dec 2018
Surviving meningococcal septicaemia: Ripu’s story

In 2015 Ripu Bhatia contracted meningococcal disease that cost him his arms and legs.

Before he was struck down by the disease, he was a journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney majoring in multi-platform storytelling. A few months prior he had also begun an internship with the ABC.

I met Ripu in early 2015 when we both lived on campus at UTS Housing’s Yura Mudang building in Ultimo. On Tuesday nights students would sometimes get together for cheap steaks at Cargo Bar on Sydney’s King Street Wharf, where we met.

A few of us sat around a table with jugs of beer and our $10 steaks. There were students from Italy, Columbia, and Sweden as well as a few Aussies too. Ripu was from New Zealand and was passionate about music.

Three and a half years later I am speaking with Ripu over the phone from Sydney. I notice his slight Kiwi accent as he tells me what happened to him.

“I caught bacteria called meningococcal, it’s a tiny organism that sits inside a host and is contracted through the exchange of saliva,” he explains.

The day before he was rushed to RPA’s emergency rooms, Ripu tells me he felt a bit off.

“I didn’t think it was too serious. I felt a bit under the weather, had a nap, had a shower and then went out with some friends for dinner.

“At dinner I felt very cold, almost in an unnatural way, especially because we were indoors and there was no reason to feel cold. I went home, had a hot shower and went to bed.”

Pictured: Ripu Bhatia
Pictured: Ripu Bhatia

The next day things got much worse. He found himself constantly vomiting and going in and out of consciousness.

“At one point I developed this really intense pain in my lower limbs to the extent that I couldn’t walk on them. I felt an excruciating coldness. What I found out later was that my blood was rushing to the centre of my body, to protect my vital organs.”

That evening Ripu contacted security at UTS Housing who took him to RPA hospital in Camperdown. Initially the nurse thought it was a form of chicken pox because he developed spots on his face. When the doctor saw him, that initial suspicion turned out be incorrect.

Ripu had something far more serious than chicken pox. He had meningococcal septicaemia. The meningococcal bacteria had entered and poisoned his blood.

According to Meningococcal Australia, this is the most dangerous type of meningococcal because blood vessels are damaged and cause bleeding into the skin. Septicaemia can lead to death in hours or result in severe disability such as amputation.

Pictured: Ripu Bhatia.
Pictured: Ripu Bhatia.

Ripu was induced into a coma and was out for about a month. When he came to, he recalled the doctors telling him that they would have to amputate his limbs.

“This was quite devastating and I cried a bit. My limbs basically turned black, they were just like dead weight attached to my body. I lost the arms first and the legs a bit later. I was really weak and unwell, I was on all sorts of pain killers and I lost a lot of weight.”

Ripu ended up staying in hospital for almost 280 days. When he was released, he returned to New Zealand where his family lives. His father took time off work to help him adjust.

“My family was really fantastic, they looked out for me and took care of me.”

For Ripu the disease has impacted on his livelihood in many ways. He has gone from living independently to becoming co-dependent, from living a fast-paced and active life to a quiet one. Often, he feels he is being perceived differently because of his disability and because he looks different. The whole ordeal has also made him feel isolated.

“I have come to a point where I have basically recovered physically but I am still trying to get my life back together. Right now, I am just applying for a lot of jobs and trying to re-enter society because you do become quite isolated.”

Before our conversation comes to an end, I remind Ripu of a time we ended up in his studio flat. He played the guitar while a few of us sang along to the melody.

“Yeah I do remember that. It was a fun night,” he recalls.

Despite losing his hands Ripu still plays the guitar with prostheses. His videos on social media have garnered much admiration and inspired many others.

When I ask him about music he says “it’s mostly a hobby. Sometimes I bust out a few chords and freestyle a bit but my energy is currently focused on getting a career and gaining financial independence.”

Follow and support Ripu.

Ripu Bhatia Meningococcal Australia
Daniel Sleiman

About Daniel Sleiman

Daniel is a freelance writer and content producer who is passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless and those in our society who have been marginalised. He has a strong interest in social justice and loves to tell stories. For Daniel, stories can be powerful, hard-hitting, and a call for change.

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Health Care
Sydney NSW, Australia
7th December 2018