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.
The next week was a blur for the Kupa family. They had been planning to move house that weekend. Instead, they found themselves rushing up to Auckland while friends and family took care of the move back home in Reporoa.
On arrival in Auckland, Caleb was admitted into hospital and the family were able to stay close by at Ronald McDonald House. After further scans and tests, Caleb was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma. He was facing 16 months of intensive treatment, including surgeries and two stem cell transplants.
The House was the family’s safe haven throughout Caleb’s treatment. “The staff were always there for a hug, you didn’t have to say a word, just a comforting hug,” says Rachael.
Staying at Ronald McDonald House meant that the family could be together as much as possible. Dad Scott would finish work on a Friday and drive up from Reporoa, bringing Caleb’s little brother Izak with him. Having family support was essential for Rachael, “being able to have Scott and Izak there, was my sanity”.
Rachael loved the community feel in the House. “We met some amazing families, we would leave our room door open and the children would come and go and play. It was a sense of normality for them,” says Rachael. “Izak would be cheeky with the staff, he’d get them to chase him. Caleb and Izak could be themselves, it felt like home”.
After Caleb’s transplants, he could come off the ward and join his family in one of the House’s apartments, which are equipped to accommodate children after transplants. “Having the apartment was just amazing. We’re so thankful. We could just lock ourselves away and be in isolation and not have to worry about bugs,” remembers Rachael.
The Kupa family continue to stay at Ronald McDonald House when Caleb requires treatment or check-ups in Auckland. Rachael is thankful for the support of the House, volunteers and staff throughout their journey. “Staying at the House has opened up a different world. It’s amazing how much people give, the generosity is truly overwhelming”.
*Photo taken by NZ Herald