The Quinn Family - Kapiti Coast

Hailing from the Kapiti Coast, Brooke and Marty Quinn are the proud parents of three young children: Braxton, Izzy and now three-year-old Nia, along with their energetic Cavoodle Hughie. Their lives were turned upside down mid 2022 when Nia suddenly became unwell. In her own words, Brooke describes their journey and experience staying at Ronald McDonald House.

It is said that the only way to see light at the end of a tunnel is to crawl through the darkness. When our youngest daughter Nia, aged two at the time, became ill, I stumbled through the darkness totally terrified and wondering how we would get through it. Mine and my husband’s focus became just getting through the next hour, then the hour after that.  All the things that once seemed important, no longer were.

One evening in July 2022, Nia developed a fever along with some lethargy and a bit of a cough. After 24 hours of very little fluids and next to no food, it had us worried enough to take her to the local After Hours. We were seen and sent home, and told she needed rest and fluids.

The following day Nia was much worse, enough for me to call Healthline to ask for some advice. Following our call paramedics came to our home to assess her, who sent us into Wellington ED. A few hours later we were placed on the Children's Ward and Nia was diagnosed with gastro and dehydration. For five days we remained in hospital, whilst Nia was rehydrated through an NG feeding tube. We were then sent home.

A day later Nia was unable to walk properly. I knew in my heart this was something far more serious. Our once sprightly little girl was walking like a fresh new foal; unsteady on her feet and collapsing in pain. We made the trip back to Wellington and within a couple of hours Nia had a C-reactive protein (CRP) test - a blood test that checks for inflammation in your body. A normal level is less than five; Nia’s was sitting at 198. From there she had an urgent ultrasound and an x-ray. Appendicitis we were told. A sigh of relief: not something we wanted to hear, but it was an answer.

Nia was administered with four different antibiotics overnight, IV analgesia and taken to theatre the next day. I asked why they weren't operating straight away? We were told by the consultant “when we take a child into theatre who is this unwell, we have a much greater chance of losing them”. Those words shook me to my core.

An hour into Nia’s key-hole surgery, we were called by her surgeon who told us it was much worse than they expected. Nia had a full infection from her gall bladder all the way to her right ovary. Her bowel was perforated in multiple places and twisted like a rope, resulting in a portion being removed and re-sectioned. Her appendix had burst, and the infection that had been lingering had totally wreaked havoc.

The surgeons operated on her for nine hours and we were reunited in recovery. Our little girl looked ghastly, she had so many tubes and wires. She had an NG feeding tube placed in, lines in both hands, a central venous line via her neck and a morphine infusion for pain relief. She had wound catheter ports for local anaesthetic across her abdomen and a four-inch incision across the middle of her tummy on her tiny frail body. She looked nothing like our little girl.

Nia received care from nurses, doctors, physios, dietitians, and ICU clinicians and spent just less than three weeks recovering in the children's ward. But finally, we could go home! We were so happy to be able to close this awful chapter.

What we didn’t know at the time, was this nightmare was just beginning. Two nights after settling back in at home, Nia woke up vomiting at 3am. After three vomits I knew something wasn’t right. We took Nia straight back to ED where the Paediatric Surgical Consultant saw her, and straight away announced that Nia was critical. She was placed into a resus bay in ED to receive one-to-one care while they prepped a theatre for surgery. Within an hour she was back under general anaesthetic. My husband and I sobbed in the hospital atrium - I was certain the entire hospital could hear me - how could this be happening again??

Several hours after Nia’s surgery we were reunited with her – the exact same bed space in the PACU, our same sick little poppet. The greatest difference though was an ileostomy stoma on our two-year-old. Rather than needing to change her nappy, we had to manage, empty and change a stoma bag.  I had never in my life felt so sad and so scared. As her mother I was propelled into also being her 24/7 nurse.

The day after her stoma surgery, I received a message from Sharyn Whitaker, the Wellington Programmes Manager at Ronald McDonald House. I had known Sharyn for many years, since I was a teenager. She said she had read on my Facebook about how sick Nia was and offered us a room at the Wellington House. It was the breath of fresh air we so desperately needed.

My husband and I could tag team so much easier - when one of us was with Nia on the ward overnight, we knew the other parent was just across the road. The care, consideration, kindness, and aroha that Sharyn and the team at RMH showed my whānau will be something I treasure forever. They gave our two older kids a teddy and a quilted blanket each - these still sit on the end of their beds to this day. Sharyn took them to choose some games, puzzles, and toys - a wonderful distraction as they too were so worried about their little sister.

Having use of RMH gave us a ‘home away from home’.  I chatted to other mums and families who had children in hospital - after feeling so alone whilst she recovered after her first surgery, this time I had so much wonderful support around me. Not that I would ever wish this experience on anyone, but when I would lie in bed in our RMH apartment and just cry myself to sleep, I felt so comforted knowing there was another mother or father on the wall next door, feeling just the same way I did.

It’s a blessing to have the RMH facility available at one of the most stressful moments in your life. We were able to grab a cooked frozen meal from the communal freezer, have a hot shower, put on a load of washing; we had a little haven away from but close enough to the hospital to escape to. It was everything we needed.

After three weeks of living at the house, Nia was discharged from the hospital. We went home feeling very out of our depth and spent the next three months feeding Nia via an NG feeding tube. At the end of 2022, Nia had her stoma reversed - we once again stayed at RMH whilst she recovered in the new Children's Hospital. The several months in between the stoma surgery and her reversal were without a doubt our hardest days as a family. I resigned from my job as a Project Manager to care for Nia full time, while my husband worked hard to provide for our family.

Nia is now four and a half. She is bright, bubbly, confident and so resilient. Nia has a decent scar right across her abdomen, but I tell her every person’s body is different, every single body has marks: scars and perfectly imperfect parts. We sing a little song each night at bedtime to celebrate her beautiful unique puku, scars and all

“Big puku, little puku, round puku, flat. Some have a lot of muscle, some have a lot of fat. Some wiggle and they jiggle and some do not, and I love whatever kind of puku I’ve got.