While day three of a baby’s life usually signifies a euphoric, yet daunting time for the majority of first time parents as they prepare to bring their precious new bundle home and start their parenting journey, 8 years ago local residents Lisa and Brad Foster were faced with a more distressing path. Their first born Ben was flown to The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) on just day three of his life. Not the way any new parents expect their new parenting journey to begin.
Shocked and confused (as any parent would be), Lisa was forced to remain in Swan Hill until able to travel the following day due to a caesarean birth, while her husband Brad accompanied little Ben on his flight to Melbourne. Ben was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disorder that predominantly affects the lungs and digestive system.
Instead of tenderly tucking him into his new bed on his first night home, they were anxiously bracing themselves for Ben’s first of five surgeries to repair his bowel (a complication associated with CF) in his first two months of life; a position that no parent expects to find oneself in when preparing for one of the most special moments of their life.
Fortunately, after a challenging period of consultations, tests and surgeries – and with the ongoing help and advice of the wonderful staff at the Royal Children’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit – Ben was eventually able to return home, with regular three-month examinations and hospital admissions indefinitely, depending on the sporadic nature of his health.
Lisa remained optimistic, and not one to dwell on circumstances, she and her husband created ‘Team Ben’ four years later; a fundraising team that initially commenced as a way to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Victoria. “I just wanted to do something; raise money and create an awareness of what Cystic Fibrosis is. A lot of people are unsure of what it actually is.” In just their first year alone, they raised a staggering $6000 for Cystic Fibrosis Victoria.
However, as time went on, they wanted to generously give back to the hospital that had given them so much over the years, so ‘Team Ben’ began to raise money for the Good Friday Royal Children’s Hospital Appeal. And for the third year running, they plan to enter ‘Run for the Kids’ this Sunday the 20th March in Melbourne with approximately 30 participants across both the 16km and 5km events, representing ‘Team Ben’ in their distinctive red and white tops.
And as if that were not a feat in itself, Lisa is quick to give recognition for the tremendous effort and support from the sidelines that has made it all possible. “Team Ben also has as many as 50 other supporters from the sidelines, from the age of 6 months right up to Ben’s great grandmother who is 90.” These members consist of friends and family that are special to Ben and his family, and help in a variety of ways such as, “supporting, cheering, raising money and just being there when needed.”
Additionally, Ben’s local St. Mary’s school community recently held a casual clothes day (donating a gold coin to dress in red for cystic fibrosis) and raised more than 450 dollars extra for Team Ben and The Royal Children’s Hospital.
Lisa and Brad are no strangers to the Royal Children’s Hospital, and over the past eight years they have witnessed the changes from the old hospital to the opening of the new one in 2011. The changes for the kids and their families over the years have been tremendous and Lisa speaks fondly of the new pull out beds for parents and welcome single rooms that allow them to remain at Ben’s side with a little more privacy and comfort when he is unwell; a far cry from the 6-bed rooms in the old hospital. Lisa recalls, “in the old hospital we shared a room with at least 6 other kids, one bathroom between us and a recliner chair for one parent to sleep the night in. It was very tiring, especially with unwell kids who would cry most of the night. But it was understandable as they were unwell.”
Ben will attend the Royal Children’s Hospital until he is 17 years old, at which time he will transition to the Alfred Hospital as an adult. In the meantime, he will continue to attend the hospital’s Cystic Fibrosis clinic every three months where he sees a dietician, physiotherapist, respiratory doctor and takes an associated lung function test.
Additionally, he has an annual review that consists of blood tests and sometimes a CT scan or ultrasound. If Ben has a stubborn infection, he will be admitted to the hospital for two weeks where he will be administered antibiotics via an IV drip every 8 hours for one hour. This may only happen once a year, but one year he was admitted for two weeks on four different occasions. If you put that into perspective, his hospital stays are the equivalent length of the school holidays; a long time for an adult to be grounded in hospital, let alone a child.
However, with the addition of the Starlight room (Ben’s favourite room of Nintendo games and crafts etc), an Education Department so they can continue to learn for two hours a day while away from home and things such as a meerkat enclosure and fish tank, the hospital truly strives to make their stay as pleasant as possible; an attempt at distracting them from the underlying reasons of their visit. For many children the hospital is akin to a second home and the generous donations of thousands of Australians every year really helps create a home away from home for these courageous children. Lisa cannot praise the staff and hospital enough, “the nurses are amazing. They will do anything for you and the kids.”
The numbers are mind-blowing. The RCH website states that in 2012-2013 alone, ‘more than 77,695 children attended the Emergency Department, 241,822 specialist clinics were held, 11,833 surgeries were performed and more than 36,242 children stayed in overnight.’ Servicing a vast area across the nation and providing solace for many concerned parents such as themselves, it is no surprise that Lisa and Brad are dedicated to the fundraising cause.
So as they prepare to embark on yet another Run for the Kids journey this weekend in support of the hospital that brightens many young lives such as their own son’s, you also have the opportunity (if you haven’t already done so) to donate to their cause by clicking on the following link. Every little bit counts and helps bring a smile to another deserving child’s face in trying times.