Archie Whitton is such a great kid with an extraordinary story. If you saw how he plays around with his brother – it would surprise you to learn he is actually missing one of his feet.
Archie wears a prosthetic lower leg … and he wears it very well.
His mum Kellie knew this might happen, even before Archie was born. At her 20-week pregnancy scan, “they told us, Sorry, there’s a problem with Archie’s hand and foot!”
That is when Kellie learned about ABS - Amniotic Band Syndrome. “It’s like rubber bands wrapped around his limbs,” she said.
This was very serious for Archie. His hands and foot could literally “self-amputate”. In fact, Archie’s life was at stake. Babies die from ABS.
Thrown in at the deep end like this, Kellie was frightened, but determined to fight for her baby. She had already gone the distance for Archie – travelling overseas for numerous treatments to achieve this pregnancy.
Six weeks following the diagnosis the deep end suddenly got even deeper. “I had a massive bleed.”
She hoped this would mean nothing more than a quick overnight trip to hospital, because she had bled in pregnancy before – with Archie’s big brother, 14-month old Montie.
This time, though, the bleeding was very different. At just 26 weeks - three months premature - Kellie was starting to give birth! “You’re in full labour, they said. We’re gonna try and get you on an air ambulance to Wellington if we can slow your labour down.”
Kellie was airlifted to Wellington with her husband Mike having to leave Montie behind. “I realised very quickly that we were going to be there for a long time.” Or even worse, “for a very short time,” if things went badly with Archie.
On top of all that terrible stress, Kellie’s mind was whirling with worries about how to get support for her family. “My parents weren’t in a position to look after Montie for months, this would have been too much of an ask given their age. I have no brothers or sisters. Mike works night shifts…”
The pressure felt monumental, but thanks to the supporters of RMHC New Zealand, all those concerns were put to rest in an instant.
“Someone just turned up at our bedside and said, Hey, look, we've got a room across the road for you at Ronald McDonald House. You can be there as long as you need.” Isn’t that amazing? Kellie felt so relieved to find out she can have her whole family with her.
Kellie did not know where Ronald McDonald House Wellington was located. She was very surprised.
“I was not expecting it to be right across the road from the hospital … and it wasn’t going to cost us anything.” They had a home away from home for as long as they needed.
“To have all that worry taken away! It’s too hard to put into words.”
From that point on, Kellie’s pregnancy was scarily precarious. Her labours came “nearly every other day”, with the danger of Archie being born far too early to survive. However, on the days when Kellie was not labouring, she loved spending time with her family in their delightful room at RMHC Wellington House.
“It was amazing for me to be able to get out of the hospital. I could go over to the House and just sit with Mike and Montie, have lunch, then come back. This was incredibly important because our Montie was so little. His whole world had been turned upside down.”
Despite all those labours, Archie managed to hang on for five more weeks before being born at 31 weeks – nine weeks premature.
Being such a prem wee baby, Archie had quite a stay in hospital ahead of him. Mum moved over to Ronald McDonald House to look after Montie and Archie along with Mike, both taking turns to be with one or the other boys.
“Ronald McDonald House was phenomenal” she said, thinking back to those days of spending on average 16 hours in NICU with Archie, but having a place that felt like home whenever she needed a haven. “From all the volunteers to the staff and the other families, they became part of our extended family. We got to know them so well.”
“If we needed anything, literally everything was covered, whether that be stuff or just a shoulder to cry on sometimes.”
She has needed those shoulders. Lots of shoulders. Since their first visit to the House. Archie has needed to revisit the hospital eight times. “We ended up being down there for nearly seven months.”
Those return trips were mainly for the aftermath of Archie’s Amniotic Band Syndrome. The lower part of his right leg had to be amputated. He has also needed numerous operations on his fingers and hands. “He’s sitting at around 15 surgeries. A truckload of surgery.”
“He has adapted to all of that phenomenally well. He is super independent. He has a prosthetic leg or he can get around without it. He runs around like a pirate when he's got it off!”
Having worked through his hands and foot challenges, Archie still has a challenging road ahead. “Unfortunately, he also has a heart condition.” It won’t be long before Archie goes for heart surgery at the National Children’s Hospital, where they will be welcomed by RMHC Auckland team of volunteers and staff.
Even though Kellie and Mike are both nurses, neither really understood the incredible family support you provide so generously through RMHC New Zealand. Now that they know, they have become passionate advocates and fundraisers across their region – including joining the House to House Challenge in 2021. “Being incredibly grateful for what RMHC has done,” Kellie says, “I was pretty motivated to give back.”
150km from Palmerston North to Wellington is a little less than the 210km average distance a House family has to travel when their child is in hospital – hence the 210km target in the House to House Challenge – but it is still a long way from home. Thank you for giving the Montgomerie-Whitton family a home away from home when Archie needs them near.