Parents recount final hours with son

Zachary Gravatt died in Auckland City Hospital on July 8, 2009, just over 15 hours after he woke up with a fever. Photo: Supplied via NZME
Zachary Gravatt died in Auckland City Hospital on July 8, 2009, just over 15 hours after he woke up with a fever. Photo: Supplied via NZME
A new coroner's inquiry into the death of an Auckland student from meningococcal disease has begun, with his parents giving a harrowing account of his last hours in hospital.

Zachary Gravatt died in Auckland City Hospital on July 8, 2009, just over 15 hours after he woke up with a fever, headache and extreme pain in his right groin.

The 22-year-old was killed by septicaemia from the C-strain meningococcal bacteria.

Deputy Solicitor-General Virginia Hardy has instructed that the inquest into the death of Zachary Gravatt be re-opened because of new evidence which has come to light since a coroner made his findings in 2011.

Today the court heard his death was sudden and unexpected, with coroner Morag McDowell offering condolences to the young man's parents for their "terrible loss".

"[His] untimely death was devastating and tragic for you and your family."

Parents Lance and Jennifer Gravatt recounted in court today their final hours with Zachary.

"I have never seen Zachary so unwell," Jennifer said.

He was listless, unable to hold a conversation and she recalled wanting to push the red button so he would receive urgent care.

"We were all suspended in an inactive zone."

His blood pressure was dropping to a "disturbingly low level".

She spoke of the moment a group of medical professionals whisked her son away, one managing a breathing bag.

"I was not given the nod to accompany him and sadly I did not."

They disappeared from sight.

"We were told they were just getting him settled and then we could go in and see him."

A nurse escorted the family into the whānau room.

"Once there we were told things were not looking good," she said.

They were "recoiling" from that news when a nurse burst in to say they needed to run if they wanted to say goodbye to Zachary.

Jennifer Gravatt and Lance Gravatt, parents of the late Zachary Gravatt who died of meningococcal...
Jennifer Gravatt and Lance Gravatt, parents of the late Zachary Gravatt who died of meningococcal disease in 2009 at Auckland City Hospital. Photo: NZME
Looking on through an internal window Jennifer could see they were too late, and her son had died, and at first her husband could not bring himself to come into the room.

"I could not see that Zachary was hooked up to any machines," she said.

"There were none that appeared to be turned on or working.

"The nurses with Zachary were crying."

She stayed to talk to her son, stroking his hair while the nurses removed the tubes.

She was asked if they wanted to take a print of her son's hand and was shocked that rigor mortis had already begun to set in but they were able to take a print.

"I remembered thinking he must have died some time ago for this to be the case."

Lance spoke of being "strongly motivated" to go into the hospital first thing in the morning the next day to thank the doctors for everything they had done to try and save him.

In those discussions, he said, staff were surprised at how quickly Zachary had deteriorated and died.

While they were still waiting for the blood result to confirm what infection it was there was suspicion that Zachary had died of meningococcal, Lance said.

"And then we went to the mortuary to say a prayer for Zachary before his autopsy."

Lance previously told the Herald both he and his wife had suffered mental health problems after their son's death.

He had said that he - but not his wife - was still receiving the assistance of mental health services.

The loss still sadden them both and, after speaking to court, Lance did not feel there was more he could say about his son.

"Not without bursting into tears."

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