Coming home to Sebastian

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I knew it would be time to reflect on how we had been living and what we had been doing for the past 4.5 months as soon as we jumped on the plane from Santiago, on our way to New Zealand.

Turning the page back to the beginning of our adventure made me think of the reasons for going on this unforgettable trip; firstly to celebrate the start of our marriage with one big extravaganza. We met whilst travelling so mirroring how we walked into each other’s lives was simply a wee bit of true romance. Of course this time we had become older, rounder, wrinklier and with way more responsibilities but neither of us had lost our thirst for seeing new places together, going with the travelling flow and simply living for the moment.

The latter leads me on to our second reason – it had to be now or never. It could’ve been so easy to get hitched, start a family and wait a few years to try and go travelling but us being us, we felt if we didn’t book those round the world flights on one starry night (and fork out a whopping 6k), we would regret it forever.  Thirdly, we just wanted to have fun. And big fat fun we sure did have.

We both feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to go on this trip but I believe if you truly want something and work hard for it, the rest is history. From the poor but personable place of Nicaragua to the Giant and gorgeous world of the Galapagos Islands to our overland and over-drinking adventure through some of South America’s diverse countries, we’ve had the times of our lives.

It was a strange feeling sitting in the aeroplane, reminiscing about our memories but also getting rather excited and thoughtful about our trip to Wellington to see our family, my new pink-tastic niece and to rest on Sebastian’s memorial bench. But we had organised a week of mini reunions before we would get there.

Our first stop in the land of the long white cloud was Auckland, staying with Ryan’s friends, Bruce and Trudy, who he met in London 14 years ago when he worked all the way through his two year UK visa. Life has certainly changed for them now as they have two children, Casey who is nearly three and Hayley who was ten weeks at the time of our visit. They live in a place called  Lynfield which is a 20 minute drive from the centre of Auckland. We spent three lazy days eating lamb, carrying on our favourite pastime of drinking beer and catching up. Sight wise we lazed and sun gazed at Mission Bay, took in the view at One Tree Hill, the inspiration for U2’s song, and gobbled down a scrummy Sunday brunch overlooking Auckland’s harbour.

We also visited somewhere very dear to our hearts, the Starship Children’s Hospital, which is where my brave little nephew Sebastian sadly battled with his life, but devastatingly lost his fierce fight. It’s one of New Zealand’s leading specialist child health services throughout the country and the South Pacific too, treating around 120,000 children every year with serious and complex health conditions. With over 200 beds and 16 day stay beds, Starship’s prime focus is on delivering family-centred care in a child friendly environment. We met a lady called Asmita who works in the Donor Partnerships department. I’ve been in email contact with her regarding various donations since August 2010 which is the year and month my darling nephew passed away. I am a regular donor and also try to raise money through other ways too. In October 2010, Ryan and I cycled from our house in Twickenham to the sunny shores of Brighton to raise money for Sebastian’s memorial bench which is sitting at the edge of Houghton Bay and for our wedding this year; we gave a donation on behalf of our guests.

Leading the way into the entrance of the hospital was a single white butterfly and as we passed through the main atrium on to the family room, the single white butterfly stayed with us both, during and after the visit.

We had bought Christmas presents for the teenage patients and chocolates for the family room which is where parents or caregivers can stay near to their sick child. My sister told me that sometimes it can be nice to have a box of chocs waiting for you after a tough day. We also met with other staff members in the Starship Foundation Office which is where all the admin is done. The people who we met are so warm and kind and work so hard to raise the money needed every year to keep on improving the hospital; we were lucky to witness where some of the money had gone including the new and improved Neuro services and Medical Specialties wards on level six.

Starship needs to raise over $5 million each year (£2.5 million) for a variety of initiatives such as building refubs, new technology, research, extra family support, preventative programmes and staff training.  In addition to this, $1.5 million (around £756K) is needed annually to help fund the National Air Ambulance Service but there are also other charities providing emergency air services too. Sebastian flew from Wellington Hospital to Starship in the first week of his short eight week life with Life Flight; his complications arising from diaphragmatic hernia became life threatening. This rare type of hernia happens in only one in every 2,000 to 5,000 births and happens when a baby’s diaphragm has a hole in it because it hasn’t formed properly in the womb. The hole in Sebastian’s diaphragm meant the organs in his tummy pushed through the muscle, squashing his lungs and preventing them from developing properly.

A charity, Starship Foundation exists through the kindness of its donors and supportive communities who donate money and/or time to assist in making Starship a world class medical facility. Please take a look at their website if you’d like to find out more – www.starship.org.nz.

It was very important to us to see where our nephew spent most of his little life, although we didn’t get to meet some of the nurses who had been caring for him. With heavy hearts, lightened with the flutter of that white butterfly, it was time to leave Auckland and carry on with our mini road trip.

Second stop was to see our Oasis tour pal, Emma in a typical kiwi town called Te Awamutu near NZ’s surfing capital, Raglan. With a population of only 12,000 people, it was certainly a shock to the system coming from Raucous Rio! Ryan finally got to use his Brazilian surfboard here as we cruised around to find some waves, minus the Brazilian bikinis and bronzed bodies.

Next stop was New Plymouth to see our good friends, Karna and Scott, who are more chums from London town. They’ve recently moved into their first house together and adopted a crazy ginger cat who likes to head butt pieces of furniture. Whilst they were at work we bezzed around Taranaki to find waves at Stent Road on the Surf Highway 45, trekked around the Egmont National Park and walked along New Plymouth’s coastal walkway, an 11km beach viewing promenade although we didn’t walk the full 11km. In the evenings we shared great stories over more tasty NZ lamb washed down with New Zealand’s best grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc. One of the highlights of our stay here was a night time visit to TSB’s annual Festival of Lights, which celebrated its 60th year. Set against the backdrop of the emerald-coloured Pukekura Park, trees and plants sparkle and glow as the park is lit and livened up with thousands of lighting displays. Nothing beats Mount Tarankai (or Mount Egmont) standing proud, staged by the park’s trees. This 2,518 metre high mountain is one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world. And for all you film buffs out there, it also provided the backdrop for the movie The Last Samauri because of its resemblance to Mount Fuji.

We finally arrived to Wellington three days before Christmas. It was a familiar and emotional site as we drove around the streets of Wellywood on the way to my sister’s house in wild and windy Houghton Bay. After 143 days of travelling, it was time to unpack the backpack for a while and enjoy some much missed family time; we had made it home to Sebastian.

In loving memory of Sebastian William Du Toit

10 June – 8 August 2010

Forever in our hearts xxxxxxx

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