Ethan with his learning program tutor




Ethan Wyllie has spent a total of two years away from home due to seemingly endless surgeries. But Ronald McDonald House has helped ease the burden.

For most children born with the relatively common birth defect known as clubfoot, non-surgical treatment soon after birth solves the problem successfully. For a few the issue is more serious. In the case of Ethan Wyllie [now 11] from Burnie in Tasmania, it has led to a lifetime of surgery and pain.

Ethan’s leg was in plaster from when he was one week old, which led to his calf muscle withering permanently. Since then, months on end have been spent in various contraptions and surgeries have been numerous.

A staphylococcus infection in his shin also resulted in various major infections in other parts of his body. Ethan has required surgery on his nose, for instance, six times to repair damage caused by the infection.

The constant trips to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital were an enormous burden for the family before they discovered Ronald McDonald House.

“We used to stay at a hotel but really couldn’t afford it,” says mum Karyn, who stayed by Ethan’s side during his years of medical intervention.

Then Karyn was introduced to Ronald McDonald House Parkville, across the road from the hospital. She has now spent around six months in its care.

“Some things only a doctor can fix. The rest, it sometimes seems, is taken care of by Ronald McDonald House.”

Ethan is also taking advantage of the Ronald McDonald Learning Program, which offers a tutor for an hour every week of the school year to help children catch up on lost learning.

Ethan, who fundraises for Ronald McDonald House whenever he can, has missed around 18 months of school, but his Learning Program tutor is helping him catch up. Perhaps more important than the knowledge though, is the distraction and comfort Ethan experiences during the learning sessions.

“He has been constantly in pain throughout much of his life,” Karyn says. “He also sees other kids playing all the time, and he can’t. Mentally it has had a major impact on him.”

“But during his Ronald McDonald Learning Program sessions he is in a different space. He is fascinated by the learning and even though he might be sad or in pain that day, you wouldn’t know it during his lessons. For a couple of hours he has a smile on his face.”

*Photography by Lisa Saad