Five years ago Matt and Lucy Horne were confronted by the medical reality they may never get to see their son Jake grow up.
Jake had a tumultuous start to life, being born 24 weeks premature, weighing 735g and facing multiple health complications.
Today, they count their blessing that they are in preparation mode for Jake’s first day of Kindergarten at Deniliquin’s St Michael’s School.
It has been a long road to reach the milestone, with the family required to make countless trips to hospitals and specialists over the years.
For the first two months of his life Jake was on a ventilator.
He had a number of surgeries to fight off a necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) infection and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) heart ligation, needing 14 blood transfusions while in hospital.
Mrs Horne said the dangerously early birth also put her own life at risk, and credits both their survivals to the swift actions of local medical staff, particularly local GP Dr Ian Dumbrell.
‘‘I was airlifted to Melbourne for Jake’s delivery. It was a very tough time, as survival rates of males at 24 weeks are lower than females.
‘‘After he was born he had the battles with NEC, which is a massive killer of premature babies, so the statistics of survival were not looking good.
‘‘But he overcame all of that and was superbly cared for by Mercy Hospital in Heidelberg, Victoria.
‘‘Words will never express our gratitude and awe of their expertise, along with the local medical staff.
‘‘It all happened very quickly,’’ Mr Horne added.
‘‘I still remember there was one time I had a call at 2.30am with the staff at the hospital unsure whether Jake would make it through,’’ he continued.
‘‘He also wasn’t stable enough to be transported to the Royal Children’s Hospital for operations, so the surgeons from there had to come to Mercy Hospital to operate.’’
When Jake was finally able to come home to Deniliquin, where he was eagerly awaited by his sisters Zarly and Lara, he was still unable to breathe on his own, and was dependent on home oxygen.
He remained on oxygen until he was about nine months old, but the little fighter eventually caught up and was crawling by 14 months and walking at 20 months.
‘‘When we had Jake at home on oxygen, we had to monitor him as he would roll over and knock the breathing tubes loose,’’ Mr Horne said.
‘‘We didn’t get a lot of sleep for the first few years, having to keep an eye out on Jake’s respiratory rate,” Mrs Horne added.
‘‘I have honestly lost count of the times Dr Dumbrell has literally saved the day and opened Jake’s airways up again.
‘‘He is a man we admire and owe so much too. All the local doctors have been professional, caring and compassionate.
‘‘Over the years Jake has endured about 20 hospital trips with severe life threatening croup, but has always beaten the odds.
‘‘We are so appreciative and thankful to have the highly skilled local staff and Deni Hospital.
‘‘My money will always be on him (Jake) and our amazing rural hospital.
‘‘We have a standing order in the emergency department and our little man is well known to staff. This is crucial in the timely delivery of the essential medical care required.
‘‘For us it is a time to reflect and celebrate his journey thus far.
‘‘We feel its a time to acknowledge the team around us and enjoy the moment which is often taken for granted.”
During his developmental years, Jake spent 18 months at Aurora School, an early intervention specialist school for hearing impaired, in Melbourne suburb Blackburn South.
He and his family, learnt to communicate with Auslan and Key Word Sign.
‘‘As a family, with Jake and I in Melbourne, we were apart four days a week so we could access intense speech therapy,’’ Mrs Horne said.
‘‘We love Deni and decided to stay here because we thought it was more important to continue to also be included in the community.
‘‘The local community has been extremely inclusive of Jake, particularly the hurdles he has had to overcome.
‘‘Jake’s heavily involved in the community too, participating in Kindergym, watching his dad play footy at the Deni Rovers and being involve with ski school, so we’re glad we chose to stay in Deni.
‘‘Going to Aurora was a huge sacrifice, mentally, financially and physically but we are now seeing the seeds starting to bloom and thrive with his development and communication.
‘‘With emotion beyond our control we are enormously proud of our strong warrior who has no boundaries we can’t overcome together.
‘‘As he gets older, he gets stronger and his health is getting better,’’ Mr Horne added.
Jake starts school on Wednesday, February 5.
The passionate Richmond Tigers supporter will attend the school with his sisters, as well as his good friend Eddie Marshall, who has also had an extensive health battle in his young years.
Eddie has neurofibromatosis type 1 — an incurable and unpredictable genetic condition that can cause tumours to grow on any nerve cell throughout the body.
With support from the local community, the Hornes said their son's transition into schooling has been made much easier.
‘‘We have partnered closely with St Michael’s and Gulpa Preschool for 18 months to be prepared and organised for a smooth transition into primary school for him,’’ Mr Horne said.
‘‘We have supports in place to help and he is extremely eager to head to school with his sisters and friends.
‘‘Jake going to school has made us appreciate where we’ve been and where we’ve gotten to.
‘‘He’s taught us more than we’ll ever teach him. We’re extremely proud of this milestone.’’
When asked what he is most looking forward to about starting school, Jake was already looking to the future.
‘‘I’m going to go to high school one day,’’ he said.
While the family said during this time it would have been easier to relocate to Melbourne, they did not want to give up their home and support base in Deniliquin.