John's Story

Newcastle House’s first family shares 30th birthday with us.

John’s family was one of the first to walk through the doors of our new Newcastle house 30 years ago. Back then John was born premature and was fighting for his life in neonatal intensive care unit at John Hunter Children’s Hospital.

His parents, Sue and Shane, were able to stay with us so they could be close to their newborn son, rather than returning to their home four hours away in Armidale.

This year, like us, John celebrates his 30th birthday. Birthdays are wonderful, but they mean so much more when you almost don’t get to have them.

Sue and Shane admit they don’t know what they would have done if our Newcastle house hadn’t yet opened its doors.

Sue went into labour at just 29 weeks and the decision was quickly made that John needed urgent medical treatment after he was born. John was airlifted to Newcastle, a town the family were unfamiliar with.

Unlike the families who had come before them who also found themselves far from home so their seriously ill or injured child could get the urgent care they needed with no accommodation and just the clothes on their back, Sue and John had a safe place to stay at Ronald McDonald House.

“It’s hard to imagine what we would have done if John had arrived before the House opened. Probably sleeping in the corridors of the hospital, which would have been an added stress and burden during a difficult time,” Sue shared.

It was the social worker in the NICU that introduced Sue and Shane to the then Manager, Carol, of the freshly opened Ronald McDonald House Newcastle, welcoming them into what would become their home for the foreseeable future.

Eleven weeks early and weighing just 1,025g, John’s lungs had not fully developed, so he was reliant on a ventilator to maintain his breathing.

Seeing your child attached to breathing devices is a heart-breaking experience for any parent. And it also meant Sue and Shane waited three months before they got their first cuddle with little John. Sue said having the support network and a comfortable place to stay made the world of difference in getting through this traumatic time. 

“The staff and volunteers knew when you walked through that door some afternoons, you just needed to go to your room for five minutes to get yourself together after you’d have a bad day. They would pick up on whatever vibe you had and then when you came back out, they’d just make sure that you're okay.

“We were so lucky to have that. I know they're not our family, but they ended up becoming part of our family because they were always there.”

John’s family stayed with us for nine months before they were able to return home. Over the next fifteen or so years, the family have travelled the long journey back and forth to Newcastle every three-to-six months for regular tests to keep track of John’s progress and so he could be reviewed by specialists. John was diagnosed with asthma and chronic lung disease, so on occasions John has needed minor operations to assist with his lung function.

“I know that for me, without the care and compassion of the volunteers and staff over the years, I would have been a basket case!”

As for John, he has rarely let his asthma and chronic lung disease slow him down.

“He plays soccer, he plays cricket, he plays football, he plays everything! If any barrier was put in front of him, nothing would push him down. He just kept getting up.”

John, who now runs his own business and is settling down with his long-term girlfriend, Anita, can’t image what his parents must have gone through during those initial few months. He is so grateful that he and his family had the support of Ronald McDonald House during an extremely challenging time in their lives.

John’s early record of surpassing milestones has served him well during his thirty years. As has ours at Ronald McDonald House.

For 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern NSW has been providing families with a place where they can be together under one roof, just steps from their seriously ill or injured child in hospital.

But more than that, it’s the additional support families receive while they are in the House. From other families, sharing their similar experiences and the staff and volunteers being a shoulder to cry on and a friendly ear there to listen.

Our birthday wish is to continue to be here for the next 30 years, providing a home away from home, for families when they need it the most. But we can only achieve this through the support of people like you.

Please make a donation to help us keep families, like John’s, together.