The Clark Family Story

Baby Garcia with Mum Janelle

Standing in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Janelle watched as her tiny baby – not even a few days old – lay sedated on the bed. Connected to tubes, under a heat lamp and with a CPAP machine breathing for him, little Garcia needed around the clock care after emergency surgery to fix a bowel obstruction.

It was a traumatic time, made harder by the fact that Janelle, her husband Kane and their two other children Rahli and Maverick were forced to leave their home, work, and community in Western Victoria to be close to the care they needed.

“It was picked up at our 20 week scan that Garcia had some sort of blockage,” says Janelle. “Doctors wanted us to give birth in Melbourne so they could do tests after. It was daunting because we had no idea what was going to happen.”

The family moved into a Ronald McDonald House when Janelle was 38 weeks pregnant. At 39 weeks she was induced and Garcia was born. Within days, Garcia was having tests, x-rays and scans.

“He hadn’t used his bowels and he wasn’t holding down any milk, so that was a big sign. During his first operation, they found two different things – colonic atresia and distal bowel obstruction.”

Garcia was just three days old when surgeons removed 60 percent of his bowel. Still, it wasn’t to be his last operation.

“After his first surgery, we couldn’t hold him for three days because he was so sedated. They wanted to keep him as still as possible. And he had to learn to breathe again, so he was hooked up to all the monitoring equipment. That’s all you could hear. Just the beeping.” 

The Clark family’s first stay at Ronald McDonald House lasted 63 days.

During that time, little Garcia had more surgery to take out an extra centimetre of his bowel, reverse his stoma and flush out obstructions.

“Handing Garcia over to the surgeons each time, and not knowing the outcome … that was tough. He was in pain but we never knew whether that surgery was the one to fix it all, or if he’d need more. We soon fell into a routine. We’d wake up, spend all day at hospital, come back to the House, have some dinner, go to bed and repeat.”

The House quickly became their sanctuary.

Rahli and Maverick could play outside, do art and craft, watch movies and build wonderful friendships with staff, volunteers and other children staying at the House. When the family came back after a long day on the ward, they had a safe place to retreat to and home-cooked meals ready to eat.

“Not having to worry about accommodation and food expenses, kids’ entertainment or putting them in kinder or childcare, took a load off mentally. It was completely mind-blowing because it felt like staying with family.”

“It seems cliché to say, but we don’t know what we would have done without that sort of help. Our house wouldn’t exist, that’s for sure. We would have struggled to keep up with repayments. We would have been split up as a family. Just helpless.”

During their stay, Rahli decided that she wanted to get a cubby house for the children receiving treatment and their siblings staying at the House, to play in and enjoy, just as she had enjoyed her time at the House. So the family set up a fundraising page and within 24 hours it raised enough to build, paint and decorate a cubby House! And just in time for Christmas.

“Rahli got to project manage the cubby house installation. She and her brother Maverick watched on as it was built, and rallied some staff and volunteers to a working bee to paint it just the way they wanted.”

“We’ve all grown as a family but to see a five-year-old receive kindness and mirror that straight away – that’s been really cool.”

When the Clark family were finally allowed home, they briefly managed to settle Rahli and Maverick back into the swing of school and kindy before again making the 3.5 hour trip back to Melbourne for more hospital visits and surgery.

And while Garcia’s care is ongoing, Janelle is grateful to have a home away from home where her family could be together when they needed each other the most.

“Every hard situation we’ve been dealt, we’ve seemed to counter with some precious moments together as a family thanks to the Ronald McDonald House.”