When the Broomhall family moved to a former rectory in the Franklin countryside they had no idea what life changing events were around the corner.
But as ANGELA KEMP Kemp discovered, their home and rural community, helped them through their darkest days.
Not long after moving to their large, historic home in Ararimu three years ago, Nigel and Melissa Broomhall welcomed their first child Sienna into the world.
They had relocated from Wellington to be closer to Melissa’s family who are dairy farmers in north Waikato.
Their love of character houses instantly drew them to a restored, elegant villa and their interest was further piqued when they learned something of its history.
The villa had once been the parish house of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell. It was moved to its present site on the outskirts of the village some 23 years ago.
Then owner, builder Wade Patchett, took it apart with a skill saw and hand saw so as not to damage its unique architectural features. He lovingly reassembled it on a five and a half acre plot before he and wife Marilyn set to creating a stunning garden.
“Most of the original features were sympathetically preserved – plasterwork ceilings, pressed tin ceilings, windows and beautiful wooden floors,” says Nigel.
“Marilyn also created a stunning garden from seedlings and cuttings in keeping with the grandeur of the home.
“We haven’t done much to the house at all apart from turning the old ablution block in the orchard into a playhouse for the kids, and adding a small flock of Arapawa sheep to the paddocks.
“It’s a lovely family house and has made the adjustment from city living to a rural lifestyle so much easier,” Nigel says.
With four large bedrooms, huge reception rooms and a wide hallway big enough to drive a car down (I kid you not) it’s easy to see why they fell in love with it.
After settling in they were delighted to learn Melissa was pregnant again. But a routine scan at 31 weeks at Pukekohe Maternity Unit turned their world upside down. They were told their unborn son had a life-threatening heart defect.
The health system went into overdrive and Melissa was told she would be booked into Auckland Hospital for the birth so specialists from nearby Starship Hospital could take immediate care of the infant.
In June last year, their son Grayson was born with a congenitial heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot which meant he was born with four heart defects and several holes in his tiny heart. Surgery was scheduled for when he was six-months-old or when he weighed five kilos, whichever came first.
But he never made either milestone. His condition deteriorated so quickly. During his first 90 days of life, 45 nights were spent in hospital. Surgeons decided to operate when he was just three months.
Their son’s life couldn’t have been in better hands. The lifesaving operation was carried out by another Franklin local, Dr Elizabeth Rumball, Starship’s paediatric cardiac surgeon who lives in Drury.
Melissa takes up the story: “She [Dr Rumball] patched up the large hole between his two bottom chambers. When you consider she was operating on a heart the size of a walnut, the 8mm hole was almost across the whole diameter. She also performed another technique called muscle unbundling which involved shaving away some of the heart tissue. It was incredibly difficult.”
Nine months on, it’s hard to imagine Grayson was so ill. He’s a real smiler, alert and very active, albeit on the small side. Melissa is weaning him off the nasogastric (NG) tube through which he has been fed all his life.
Although the heart surgery has been a success, and the cardiac specialists don’t want to see him again until he’s ‘a crazy toddler’, Grayson still has some health problems.
“For the next few years we know we can relax when it comes to his heart but we still have to be careful to keep him free from infections, particularly viral illnesses which can attack the organs,” said Melissa.
Grayson has laryngomalacia or a floppy airway which in severe cases can prevent breathing. There’s hope he’ll grow out of it, but meanwhile his parents take extra care to keep him in a warm and healthy environment.
“Winter is always going to be a nervous time for us.”
Health professionals make regular home visits including a dietician and a speech and language therapist to help with Grayson’s feeding issues.
He also sees the Starship ear, nose and throat surgeon, a paediatrician and has been referred to a baby physio specialist to make sure he’s developing on track.
The family marked his first birthday with a big celebration at John Hill Estate Winery in Hunua where Grayson was given an electric truck. “It was our way of thanking our friends and the community for all the help they have given us over the past year.
“The acts of kindness are too many to remember but some included the Lions Club in Clevedon which gave us a lovely Christmas hamper; others left food and flowers on our doorstep.
“They say it takes a community to raise a child; well, they certainly helped us with Sienna. The mail lady Bernie is amazing. I was house bound to quarantine Grayson so had to buy a lot of supplies online and she saw the best and worst moments.
“Some days she was probably a bit nervous about knocking on the door. She just delivered a package the other day and I answered the door in my PJs exhausted from half the night at hospital, She stopped to chat and make sure I was OK.”
“We are so lucky to live in this lovely rural community, the support has been amazing.”
Needless to say Grayson loves ‘driving’ his new electric car up and down the hall.