The Szczepkowski-Wong Family - Christchurch

Sophie's family lives in the beautiful city of Christchurch. Sophie's mother, Viv, had the fortune of meeting her husband, Arthur, during her time working abroad in South Korea. Their love led them on an incredible journey, taking them to the United States and back to South Korea, where their firstborn, Lucas, came into the world. But, as fate would have it, the pandemic struck, causing them to return to their home in Aotearoa. Yet, their family was not complete. In November, they were blessed with a little sister for Lucas, their beautiful Sophie. 

However, their joy soon turned to worry when they realised that something was wrong with their baby girl. As a new-born, Sophie was very sleepy and struggled to gain weight. Alarming symptoms began to surface, so Viv and Arthur sought medical advice as they were concerned for their daughter's wellbeing. This led them to the devastating discovery that Sophie had a rare and incurable liver disease called Biliary Atresia. The news shook their world to its core.  

 The doctor explained that Sophie had a blockage, causing severe damage to her liver. The only glimmer of hope was a major surgery which could offer a temporary solution, allowing her liver a chance to heal or preparing her for a potential liver transplant in the future.  

 The family received the daunting news on a Friday, and within days, they found themselves at the The Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC) in Auckland, preparing for Sophie’s surgery. Your generosity meant that the support they encountered at the House was nothing short of remarkable. “The staff and volunteers welcomed us with kindness and understanding as we ventured into the unknown.” Says Viv. 

 During Sophie’s recovery from surgery, Viv stayed by her side at the hospital, while Arthur could easily walk over to the nearby RMHC® house. The location of the House meant that Arthur could be there for their daughter while also providing Viv with much-needed breaks to rejuvenate and gather strength. The House became their sanctuary, offering comfort in a challenging time. 

 One of the most cherished parts of Sophie’s family's stay was having their own living quarters outside of the hospital. RMHC® provided a sense of normality and a place they could truly call home. It alleviated the burden of finding accommodation during their time in Auckland. 

 Despite their journey, there were a couple of experiences at the House that Viv and Arthur held close to their hearts. The first was cooking in the kitchen alongside Chef Heath. "It might not seem like much, but cooking alongside Chef Heath brought a sense of normality to our lives. To be able to prepare fresh food and engage in normal chit-chat with him about everyday things was a blessing. Also, the community pantry and the family meals. These things were invaluable, particularly during busy days at the hospital when we couldn't order groceries or anything like that. It is these small gestures that make a huge impact on families like ours." 

 Just when things were looking up and the family was back in Christchurch, they got hit with more bad news. Sophie was sick again and had to be rushed back up to Auckland the next day. Viv is currently navigating the process of preparing for a liver transplant for Sophie and waiting for results and answers. Unfortunately, this is the reality of having a sick child. The unknown, the stress, the worry – it doesn't go away. 

 Having a place like RMHC® where they know they will be welcomed with open arms at any time alleviates so much angst. It's hard for Viv and Arthur to put into words how much it means to have support during these tough times, but being able to connect with other families who truly understand the heartbreak and challenges of having a sick child has been a godsend for them and many others. 

 The strength they have gained from the staff, volunteers, and other families cannot be overstated. The knowledge that they are not alone in their struggles brings immeasurable comfort, and RMHC® consistently goes above and beyond to ensure that all families' needs are met during some of the most challenging times. 

 From the bottom of their hearts, Viv, Arthur, and their children want to express their extreme gratitude. Without the donations of the New Zealand community, RMHC® would not be able to fulfil its crucial role in supporting families like theirs. It is through your generosity that families can find support, strength, and the most important gift of all – each other.