Coutts family




When your child falls seriously ill it changes every relationship you have, even with friends and relatives. One mum has found the bright side of a dark situation.

Taking care of a child who is suffering a serious illness is enormously isolating, not just because of the constant hospital stays and time away from home.

It’s also the inability to hire a babysitter who has the knowledge of what to do should something go wrong. It’s the fact that friends’ children can’t come to play as they might be carrying a bug your own child’s immune system can’t handle. And as well-meaning as your friends or relatives are, it’s also the fact that they cannot possibly understand what it is you are going through.

So when a mother finds a place of great support, a place populated by people who comprehend her struggle, it can be enormously liberating. This is the experience Mount Gambier mum Venita Coutts had when she discovered Ronald McDonald House in Adelaide, where she has now stayed 57 times.

Ezekiel Coutts, now seven years old, was born six weeks early and suffering a rare genetic illness known as autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease. Since birth he has also suffered chronic lung disease, asthma, liver issues and more.

Venita was flown from Mount Gambier to Adelaide for the emergency caesarean and husband Allan followed close behind in his car. Allan was given a bed in a run-down building once used to house nurses. It offered nothing more than a fold-out bed in a bare room with a shared bathroom. It felt neither safe nor comfortable, but the couple couldn’t afford a hotel for a long-term stay.

“When I was discharged I had to stay there, too. It was not fun,” Venita says. “But soon we were given a room at Ronald McDonald House and everything changed.

"...It was so friendly, welcoming, safe and clean. We stayed six weeks. That Ronald McDonald House was Ezekiel’s first home outside of the hospital.”

Ezekiel’s condition is still serious, so Venita has had to return to Adelaide with him countless times. Each stay, she says, has been made joyful by the Ronald McDonald House team.

“Ezekiel loves the House and the people there are like family,” she says. “The House means the world to me. You’d think it would be a sad place but it’s not. It’s a happy place. The people there understand your plight and they truly care.”

Ezekiel has also been taking advantage of the Ronald McDonald Learning Program, through which a tutor helps the child catch up on lost learning.

“Ronald McDonald House creates a lot less stress in a bad situation,” Allan says. “When Venita and Ezekiel have to go to Adelaide and I have to stay and work, it offers me enormous peace of mind to know they are safe and being well looked after.

*Photos by Frank Monger