Bonnie's "pit crew" of helpers

“It’s like a nightmare, but you can’t wake up.”

The Hall family had finally returned home to Wellington from the Ronald McDonald Christchurch House after they were told their three-year-old daughter Bonnie’s cancer was in complete remission with an excellent prognosis.

But just a few months later, parents Jane and Pat returned to the Wellington hospital and received the news no parent ever wants to hear: Bonnie’s cancer was back, with new tumors found throughout her abdomen and lungs.

“She was so sick,” recalls Jane. “When you’re told something like that, it is like an out-of-body experience — it didn’t really register. All we knew was that we wanted to be back in Christchurch and go back to our friends at the Ronald McDonald House.”

The Hall family, including one-year-old baby sister Frieda, were immediately flown to Christchurch where Bonnie began a very aggressive treatment regime, including a stem cell transplant, to fight the cancer. She was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. However, even doctors were shocked by its aggressive return to Bonnie’s tiny body.

Managing Bonnie’s busy hospital schedule and while caring for baby Frieda has been overwhelming for Pat and Jane, but these strong parents say their solace is being able to stay in the Christchurch House.

“At first we were grateful that all the infrastructure was there — the kitchen, the lounge, the laundry, and the play area. But it is the support we have received from the staff, the volunteers, and the other families that has been incredible — you’ve all become part of our family.”

The Christchurch House has also become a home for grandparents Ross and Anne, who have been there to support their daughter Jane and son-in-law Pat.

"Bonnie’s Pit Crew" Grandparents Anne and Ross with baby Frieda "Bonnie’s Pit Crew" Grandparents Anne and Ross have been with the Halls every step of the way, often taking care of one-year-old Frieda so parents Jane and Pat can be with Bonnie in the hospital. (All photos by CM Photography.)

Jane says the value of having her parents in an adjoining room has been immeasurable. Ross and Anne have become the resident "house grandparents" — emptying dishwashers, taking out the rubbish, and making cups of tea for mums and dads.

Anne says being able to stay at the Christchurch House has meant she isn’t worrying about her family far away from home.

“When your grandchild is sick, you’re not just worried about your grandchild, you’re worried about your children and how they are coping. So being able to stay at the House and be near to them just takes all that worry away.”

Baby Frieda celebrated her first birthday at Ronald McDonald House Baby Frieda celebrated her first birthday at Ronald McDonald House South Island, and has many House ‘aunties’ who love being around this gorgeous wee bub.

Ross says supporting Ronald McDonald House South Island is a "no brainer. Children are our legacy. Bonnie is only three and has the rest of her life ahead of her. That’s why it is so important to support facilities like this, so we can give kids the best start in life.”

Baby Frieda has grown up in the Christchurch House, cared for not only by her grandparents, but the many "aunties" of the House who adore her chubby cheeks and infectious smile — she even celebrated her first birthday there.

After spending 152 nights (and counting) in the Christchurch House, the Hall family continues to take each day as it comes while Bonnie’s treatment continues. Jane says the House has enabled this family unit to be the best "pit crew" little Bonnie could ask for.

- story by Phillipa Webb

Ronald McDonald South Island NZ

Providing free accommodation and support to families of sick children in need of hospital care in Christchurch and Invercargill, New Zealand.

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