Life for the Cooke family came to an abrupt halt in early 2015 when they found out that Lily was sick. The family immediately flew from their home in Porirua to Christchurch so Lily could receive treatment at Christchurch Hospital. The next few months were spent trekking back and forth between Ronald McDonald House South Island and the hospital before a final diagnosis in September required the family to move up to Auckland.

Despite being relieved at having a diagnosis, the family were completely thrown out of their comfort zone, not knowing where they were going to live and how they were going to afford to keep their family together in Auckland.

When the Cooke family were referred to our Ronald McDonald House in Auckland parents Julia and Russell said “it took a lot of weight off our shoulders, we had a safe place to stay close to the hospital that we didn’t need to pay for”. The House also proved to be a ‘home-away-from-home’ for the family who became close with a number of the staff during their stay.

“It was such a lovely warming, caring place with people that knew what we were going through” says Julia.

The Auckland House helped keep the family together during an incredibly difficult time of their lives, explains Julia, “having Lily up at hospital and her brother Liam to worry about, we soon realised one adult couldn’t do it all. I left my job and Russell took leave – we were only able to do that because of the House”.

The House provided routine and normality to the family’s lives, Liam attended school and had other siblings to talk to who also had a brother or sister receiving treatment in hospital. Being so close to the hospital also meant that Liam could come up and see Lily on his school lunch break and keep his sister company.

Being in the house also gave Liam the opportunity to do fun activities he normally wouldn’t do. The house was a great support and distraction, taking him to watch soccer and tennis games, or day trips to the Zoo and a trampoline park. The House also gave the family a break after spending long days on the wards, with Julia fondly recalling that the House cook nights “took a lot of pressure off, people are so generous to come in and make that for us. It was amazing, their generosity was mind blowing”.

The highlight of the Cooke family’s time at the House was Christmas, and the wonderful volunteers who made the day special.  Julia says they had no idea what to expect being in the House over the Christmas period, but were absolutely blown away by the amount of staff and volunteers that came in to make Christmas breakfast, lunch and dinner for all the families.

“The atmosphere in the House was great, they made all the kids feel special, not only the patients but the siblings too.”

The Cooke family is now back in Porirua and Lily is enjoying being back at school seeing her friends. Having returned home, Julia feels incredibly lucky to have had the Ronald McDonald House Charities’ support during the family’s medical journey, saying what a wonderful place and people the family had meet up in Auckland House where “nothing was too much trouble”. Because of the amazing support the family received, thanks to our supporters, Julia decided to sign up as a House Hero to give back to families just like her own.

It takes someone who has experienced firsthand what having a child in hospital is like to understand what incredible lengths donors, volunteers and RMHC New Zealand staff go to to ensure that families like the Cookes have everything they need during their medical journey. We are so thankful that Julia felt so strongly about becoming a House Hero, as her support means families like hers will always have a place to rest their head and a ‘home-away-from-home’.

If you’d like to support more families like the Cookes by becoming a House Hero, visit https://rmhc.org.nz/support/donate to make a regular donation.