Jake and the Pokai Family Story
It was the trip of a lifetime. Jake Pokai saved his paper run money for an entire year. He had been accepted…
The strength and courage of the families that stay with us is an inspiration. Over the years RMHC® New Zealand has welcomed thousands of families from all over New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. In 2020 almost 3,700 families called our Houses home.
There is no better way to understand the value of our House than hearing from the families directly. Some families have shared their story and journey with Ronald McDonald House® below, highlighting the different circumstances which bring them here and what their stay meant to them.
Running a 1416 hectare farm in Five Rivers, Southland, the Drummond family were undaunted by a challenge. At their routine pregnancy scan, Hannah and Craig were informed that their tiny baby potentially had some medical issues – a challenge no family could prepare for. Following her midwife appointment at 33 weeks, Hannah was rushed up to Auckland hospital – she didn’t even have time to pack a bag. She remembers her biggest stress was knowing her husband Craig and daughter Briar (then 2) were following her up, but had nowhere to stay.
“I remember Craig coming up and being like we are down at this House it’s amazing, don’t worry there’s food there, Briars fine she’s got somewhere to play, it’s safe it’s warm. I can’t explain the relief I felt knowing that they were ok, that they were close by, that thanks to Ronald McDonald House, that part of life wasn’t going to be an issue”.
In February of this year, Matt, his partner Siobhan and their daughters were enjoying their new start in Hamilton when an unexpected phone call changed their course. Their eldest daughter, Florence, had been diagnosed with leukaemia. In less than 24 hours, the family was on their way to Auckland for immediate treatment.
Matt and Siobhan couldn’t be more grateful for the services that RMHC New Zealand provides thanks to our fantastic supporters. “Thank you to everyone who donates to RMHC New Zealand, I’m not sure you realise how much your generosity means to families at a time when they need it the most.”
Five years ago, the Bertelsen-Joyce family from Awatuna, Taranaki had no idea Ronald McDonald House existed. Now, they call it their ‘home-away-from-home’ after staying for over 90 nights. In 2014, 13-year-old Josephine had just started high school. Within a day, Josephine was diagnosed with leukaemia and sent up to Auckland to begin specialist treatment. Roni says their family simply couldn’t have got through these years without the support of RMHC New Zealand.
“We had some pretty long stays, up to a few weeks. We couldn’t have afforded to stay that long at a motel or even a backpackers in Auckland. We would’ve had to stay with family in Hamilton and travel to and from the hospital every day. Financially, we wouldn’t have been able to manage, let alone emotionally.”
Eight-year-old Wanaka local Eli LaRose looks forward to his Auckland visits. He knows that means having to go to the hospital for operations, but he gets excited because he stays at Ronald McDonald House, which has been his much loved ‘home-away-from-home’ for most of his life.
House dad Jason says RMHC New Zealand has been invaluable to them, especially financially. “The reality is, Ronald McDonald House saved us. If it didn’t exist we would’ve had to move to Auckland and I would’ve had to quit my job. I shudder to think what life might’ve been like.”
When new parents Anton and Kayla welcomed their little boy Jai into the world, they had no idea RMHC® New Zealand would be their ‘home-away-from-home’ for more than seven years. Back in 2011, Kayla was getting her toddler Jai ready for bed, when he began drawing in air and struggling to breathe. She and her husband Anton rushed him to Tauranga Hospital where doctors found that his airway was covered in a growth. What was supposed to be the size of a two dollar coin was a needle point. Jai needed specialist surgery at the National Children’s Hospital in Auckland.
The family stays at Ronald McDonald House every time and Kayla says having the whole family together has been crucial. “It means we can all support each other, and having us around makes Jai feel like he isn’t alone.”
When the Gray family’s youngest daughter, Tiana, was born in 2010, they knew little about RMHC® New Zealand, and had no idea that their newborn’s journey would mean they’d need the charity’s ongoing support.
“The House became our sanctuary away from the hospital while we were going through the worst time in our lives. We simply wouldn’t have coped without it,” says mum Jo.
Nelson teenager Beau Prosser says Ronald McDonald House is one of her favourite places. And she should know, the 16 year old has had 26 stays at the House in Auckland since she was 6 weeks old. Beau had a difficult start to life. Mum Katie recalls that doctors predicted Beau wouldn’t survive birth. Much to their amazement, she did survive, and continues to defy the odds, living with more than 60 abnormalities.
“The House is so welcoming, the staff just can’t do enough for you. It’s just so easy. When you arrive you have a wonderful clean room and you don’t have to worry about anything, you can just focus on your child.”
The Innes Smith family from Christchurch love celebrating Christmas. Every year, together with their extended family, they enjoy a BBQ in the sun. But last year they couldn’t be home for Christmas. Daughter Holly (then nine) had been receiving special medical treatment at the National Children’s Hospital in Auckland since August, while her parents Debbie and Jim, and her three younger sisters stayed close by at Ronald McDonald House.
“It was a Christmas week! There were about four Christmas parties put on by volunteers, beautiful food and so many presents. The kids were utterly spoilt rotten – which they adored! What the staff and volunteers did for families like ours was amazing.”
The Allan family from Whangamata have been staying at Ronald McDonald House on and off for over two years, while 3-year-old Mason receives specialist treatment and awaits a kidney transplant. To celebrate Father’s Day, our friends at nib helped us plan a surprise day out for dad Matt and the whole family! See the video of their day by clicking on ‘Read More’.
“We’ve had a difficult couple of years, but the support of RMHC New Zealand has been invaluable – it truly is a ‘home-away-from-home’ and we know none of it would be possible without partners such as nib.”
Racheal Lincoln and Jesse Faulkner know better than most the support RMHC New Zealand provides. They were awaiting the arrival of their first child when – just four days before their due date – they were told that Racheal needed to give birth in Wellington.
“It was very comforting knowing that we could go back and forth from the House at any time of the day or night. Being just across the road took all the stress out of travelling from other accommodation.”
The Rigby family from Timaru were visiting Wellington when their son Melakai had an asthma attack at 12 years old. He was taken to Wellington Hospital where his condition worsened. Melakai finally got his breath back with medication but needed to stay in hospital for a few nights for monitoring.
“It definitely helped us in a time of stress. Everything was taken care of. We didn’t have to worry about anything else, we could just focus on our family”
Four-year-old (now six) Caleb Kupa had been having stomach pains for a long time without any diagnosis. He had been in for numerous blood tests without any alarming results. So when mum Rachael took him to Rotorua hospital for faster access to scans, she was sure it couldn’t be anything serious. However, an ultrasound scan found an unknown mass in Caleb’s abdomen. On arrival in Auckland, Caleb was admitted into hospital and the family were able to stay close by at Ronald McDonald House.
“The staff were always there for a hug, you didn’t have to say a word, just a comforting hug.”
Invercargill mum of ten, Carla Dick says staying with RMHC® New Zealand has been an incredible gift for her family. She and her husband Grant knew before their youngest son Nathanael was born that he would need a kidney transplant one day. This day came sooner than expected when Nathanael experienced kidney failure at the tender age of nine.
“I felt so cared for at the House. It was easy for me to get to and from the hospital, easy to get food, easy for me to entertain Nathanael, I can’t imagine how people could do it without this kind of support from Ronald McDonald House.”
In early 2014, Hazel and Andrew Sim from Napier welcomed Carter into the world. Little did they know the massive journey that this little bundle of joy was about to take them on. Carter was just eight weeks old when the Sim family made their first trip to Ronald McDonald House® in Auckland.
“The House was our lifeline to normality, and massive reason we could help Carter get through anything thrown at him.”
When Hamilton parents Estelle and Nathan Dixon’s little girl was born in June last year, they never envisaged their first Christmas with her would be spent at the hospital in Auckland. Poppy was just 11 weeks old when mum Estelle noticed something wasn’t right. Poppy’s heart had been beating very hard and soon after, she started vomiting.
“Our baby girl was so sick, we weren’t sure she would survive. The House was there as a sanctuary away from all things clinical.”
A normal day at kindy took a turn for the worse and life for the Bateman family from Palmerston North changed drastically. When playing outside two-year-old Toby picked up a leaf to show his teacher, and when she bent down she noticed that his pupils were different sizes. It didn’t take long before Toby was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma.
“The families staying at the House all understand your exact situation and the staff are just wonderful. You have so much support that it doesn’t feel all bad.”
Bay of Plenty mum Victoria Foreman always knew she would need to give birth to baby Nixon in Auckland. She’d been told Nixon would need to receive specialist treatment for his heart at the National Children’s Hospital. However, it all happened much earlier than expected when Victoria developed severe preeclampsia and was flown to Auckland Hospital on an emergency flight. Their initial four week stay turned into four months as Nixon’s condition was worse than anticipated.
“Often you can feel like you’re the only one going through hard times, but meeting the other families makes you realise you are definitely not alone.”
The Shury family from Waitara began their journey with Ronald McDonald House when their twin daughters were prematurely born. Kate and Pete’s girls were delivered at just 29 weeks in Wellington Hospital, more than 350km away from home.After Evelyn and Eloise were born, Kate and Pete stayed at Ronald McDonald House just across the road from their baby girls.
“The staff and volunteers had total open love and were just so giving and nurturing.”
The Tamiheres first arrived at Ronald McDonald House in 2014 after Mikaera underwent a bone marrow transplant. Mikaera has since made a long but steady recovery and has become a vocal advocate for our charity.
“My treatment was long and I couldn’t go home to Kawerau for almost a year, it would have been harder if I didn’t have my family!”