I wont give up - Erica and Anne

Erica Burleigh - TAS

Erica, aged 36, who is legally blind after surviving the illness at 17 years old


“I can stand alongside other people impacted by meningococcal disease who have shown courage and strength, and together we can raise awareness for all Australians.” - Erica


Meningococcal disease is a rare, but potentially devastating bacterial infection of the blood and/or membranes that line the spinal cord and brain. The illness can strike at any age, but children up to four years old and adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years old are at higher risk.1 Different strains cause invasive meningococcal disease and most Australians at risk are not fully protected.

Meningococcal disease can progress rapidly and be difficult to diagnose. The early symptoms such as fever and headache can easily be mistaken for a common cold. The distinctive meningococcal rash is an advanced symptom, which may or may not occur during infection. While most survive, if it is not diagnosed and treated quickly, meningococcal disease can lead to death or serious consequences within 24 hours.

Up to one in ten of those infected may die2,3 and around one in five may suffer serious long-term disabilities including brain damage, deafness or loss of limbs2

Erica, 36, from Hobart, is part of a new national portrait series, I Won’t Give Up, which celebrates the strength and resilience of Australians who have been impacted by meningococcal disease.

In 2000, 17-year-old Erica, visited her doctor with what she thought was flu. Within 12 hours she was in hospital, in a coma and on life support. She emerged from her coma three days later, almost blind.

Nearly two decades later, Erica, is proud to be one of seven Australians photographed by world renowned, Australian-born photographer, Anne Geddes. The portrait series celebrates life after meningococcal disease and is a tribute to their courage and hope for the future.

I won't give up - Erica portrait


In Erica’s case, the swelling of her brain severely damaged her optic nerves, leaving her with one per cent of vision in one eye and between 10-20 per cent vision in the other. “When I came out of the coma, I was in the hospital but had no idea what had happened to me. I couldn’t see anything, everything was black. When I was diagnosed, I’d never heard of meningococcal disease before, my parents and none of my friends knew what it was,” Erica said. “From that point on my life completely changed. Suddenly my independence was gone. I was reliant on other people for everything. I had to quit my studies. My Mum had to do all my cooking, do my hair and pick out my clothes. At the age of 18, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.”

Despite the impact on Erica’s life, she believes she has become a stronger person. “Because this happened to me, I can be strong. I work full-time and I’m driven. I can stand alongside other people impacted by meningococcal disease who have shown courage and strength, and together we can raise awareness for all Australians.”


Anne Geddes, known for her iconic images of children, became a global ambassador for meningococcal disease after witnessing a devastating outbreak in New Zealand while living there with her young family. She recently spent time in Australia photographing seven Australians whose lives have been forever changed by meningococcal disease.

“When I first met Erica, she explained that many people don’t realise the limitations of losing your sight. Now, with assistance, Erica is able to read books, go shopping and take public transport. Her portrait is simple, compelling and impactful. She looks determined and strong.”

“We need greater awareness of meningococcal disease and prevention options. Hopefully if Australians have a better understanding, no one will experience the loss of a loved one or the lifelong impact of the disease. Out of tragedy or by overcoming adversity, the individuals portrayed in I Won’t Give Up have created something beautiful,” Anne said.

In sharing her story, Erica wants Australians to be more aware about meningococcal disease and go talk to their doctor for more information about the disease and how to help protect their family

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Anne Geddes turns her lens to meningococcal disease

In helping to tell their stories, Anne wants Australians to be more aware about meningococcal disease

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Know the facts about meningococcal disease

Get facts and advice on meningococcal disease and how you can help protect your family

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Daniel Tulloch survived meningococal disease in 2018 at age 5

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Rhainer was two years old when she lost her twin sister to the disease in 2017

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Mike, aged 36 is a motivational speaker who lost his legs because of the illness at 18 years old

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Thorn, aged 19, lives with the physical and psychological impact of the disease he survived

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Jazmyn, aged seven, lives with chronic pain after surviving meningococcal disease in 2015

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Speak to your doctor for more information on meningococcal disease and how you can help protect your family