When our daughter was 2 she was diagnosed with a “hole in the heart”. Unlike the one that I had lived with, and the one that my father had lived with (and no it is not hereditary either), Lili’s would need surgery. At age three she went in to be operated on. My wife Narelle and I were told to go and do something while she was in theatre, so we went out for tea. One of the least enjoyable meals I have ever had, as we waited for news on our first born daughter, who was currently having her sternum broken, chest cavity opened, her heart stopped, bypassed, and the wall between the atriums of her heart repaired.
As it turns out, almost the entire wall between the atriums of her heart was swinging in the breeze. The doctors described her heart as like driving a car around in 3rd gear all the time. You could do it, but eventually the engine would give up.
The staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital were amazing. The facility has to be the best in the world. Within 4 days of open heart surgery Lili was home, and rapidly recovering. Her check ups were aided by her desire to go back to the hospital to see the fish in the big aquarium, or meercats near the waiting room. At no point was there a single grumpy nurse or doctor. They were all so “happy”, and yet when you stop and think about it, they can’t be. They spend so much of their day dealing with sadness that I can’t even imagine. Sick people are one thing, but sick kids is an entirely different thing. I don’t know how they do it. We came out of that experience extremely thankful. We had a healthy daughter and our scare was nothing compared to what others were going through.
Fast forward three years to 2016, and I have just finished packing up our trade site at LambEx in Albury. Jenko that works for us, and I were pumped. We had managed to pack up in record time, and we were on the road already. We had made it about 2 hours down the Hume when I got a phone call. All I could hear on the other end was Narelle saying that Jack, our 2 year old, had fallen in the fire. That and the screaming in the background. Then the phone got handed to Lili who tried to explain to me what had happened (in the best way that a 6yo could).
I had burnt some branches in the paddock behind our place a week earlier, and before heading off to LambEx, checked that the fire was out. There was no heat in it (or so I thought), it was August, and we had had 10mm of rain on top of ashes which I had deemed to be out anyway. On the Friday, a whole week since the bonfire, Jack our 2 year old was running past the ash on his way to the neighbours house. Narelle and the girls were no more than 5 metres from him. He wasn’t going near the ash. Simply running passed it. He tripped, fell, and his legs rolled onto the edge of the ash. His pants didn’t burn at all, but the radiant heat meant that his legs did.
The result was severe burns to his legs, and a helicopter ride to the Royal Children’s Hospital. Meanwhile I am stuck in a car travelling along the Hume. Thankfully Jenko was driving! I had no real concept of what had happened, just the sick feeling in my gut that this was my fault. It was my fire. It was my fault.
The phone rang again and it was Narelle to let us know that the chopper would take them straight to the Royal Children’s. We diverted off the ring road and straight there. Jenko dropped me at the front door, and I headed for the emergency department. I wasn’t entirely sure how I would get the words out when I got to reception in emergency, as composure was not something I was possessing at this stage.
I could hear the chopper landing on the roof, but I just had to wait until they made it down into emergency. Eventually I got the signal to come through. As I burst through the doors the first person I was met with as one of the paramedics from the chopper. His words were simple “your son is fine. He will be fine.” There could not have been any better words for me to hear at that point. It was the first time that I really knew anything about how he really was.
When I made it into the room, Jack was calm (pain killers had done their job) and Narelle was there. From that moment on, the Royal Children’s staff worked their magic. Not just on Jack, but on us as well. We went from panic, fear and guilt, to simply having a plan. Everything from here was simply about following the plan. Check ups, dressing changes, six skin grafts, more check ups, and not a single night in hospital for him. It was incredible. Seeing his burns on the night and in the week following the incident was confronting. Now, 2 years on, you can hardly tell anything ever happened to his legs.
There are so many what-ifs. Why didn’t I check the fire better? How did it heat back up? Why didn’t I just bury the ashes with the front end loader like I normally would? What if Narelle was closer to him (impossible), What if they walked through the paddock the next day when I was home? Lots of what ifs, but only one certainty. We are extremely lucky to have the Royal Children’s Hospital on our doorstep, and a helicopter that can have you there in 15 minutes.
I cannot thank the Royal Children’s Hospital enough for everything they have done for our family. Not a single grumpy nurse or doctor, and nothing has ever been too much trouble. And yet we know they can’t all be having good days. Not in their job.
So that is why each year we raise money for the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal.
This year our Achieve More Forum is taking place on March 16 at Inverleigh. A great farmer event, great speakers, and raising money for this amazing cause. For more details follow this link - https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/72395b_c97d9dfa31cb479e8ac80c446332cdb0.pdf
On Good Friday itself we are involved in the Inverleigh & Districts Good Friday Appeal. A great family event that raises a significant amount of money each year. For more details follow this link - https://www.facebook.com/ihdgfa/