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When Thomas went to hospital, they would drop everything.

This past December, seven-month-old Thomas spent his very first Christmas with an adoring family. Everyone wanted a turn to hold and cuddle him. From all the smiles and giggles, you’d never have guessed that little Thomas did not have an easy start to life. 

 When Thomas was born, he spent the first weeks of his life in critical condition. He was struggling to breathe on his own, and his frail little body writhed in pain. Why? This little baby was exposed to substance abuse in his mother’s womb.

 “Thomas’s mum and dad have had a long history of heavy substance use, which Thomas was withdrawing from at the time of birth. It’s a pretty confronting story,” Home Based Care Case Manager Hayden explained.

 When it came time for Thomas to go home from hospital, it wasn’t safe for him to go with his parents. He needed immediate short-term foster care. On top of dealing with substance issues, Thomas was born with Down syndrome and was immunocompromised. 

 That was when foster carers, Matt and Joanna, welcomed him into their home. In addition to caring for their children, 13-year-old Alex* and 11-year-old Lucy*, Matt and Joanna had also provided foster care for two young people with disabilities and complex medical needs before. The couple knew what it would take to care for Thomas, but they were willing to do whatever it took to give Thomas the best chance at a healthy, happy life.

Thomas was at high risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). He had a respiratory condition. There were a number of factors, including withdrawing from substances passed on by his mother.   

He needed a lot of assistance with his breathing. He was constantly monitored for his heart rate and oxygen levels. The ability to breathe effectively just wasn’t there for Thomas. He would hold his breath and turn blue several times a day. The worst one was about three minutes long.

– Hayden, Home Based Care Case Manager

These terrifying experiences led to several visits to hospital, where Thomas had to be put on three different breathing machines to keep him alive.  

To ensure someone was always with Thomas, Matt and Joanna put a hold on their work and lifestyle commitments. They would travel to Melbourne to receive training on how to use the breathing machines. At naptimes and during overnight sleeps, they watched over Thomas while he was connected to a CPAP machine to keep his breathing airways open. 

As the weeks passed, Thomas’s condition slowly improved. His little body was healing and growing stronger each day.     

“Babies are very aware and know what’s going on… With Matt and Joanna bringing Thomas into their family, we see how much of an effect it has on kids to provide them with a loving and nurturing environment. We can turn their life around,” Hayden says. 

Mark and Joanna were short-term foster carers, so when it was time to find someone who could take on Thomas’s long-term care, something wonderful happened. Joanna’s mother, Mary* put her hand up to open her home as Thomas’s new carer. She wanted nothing more than to continue the special bond her family shared with Thomas.  

 Thomas is now thriving! He no longer needs breathing support. And best of all, Matt and Joanna, along with Alex and Lucy, get to visit Thomas at Mary’s home regularly. 

Thomas’s story is a testament to just how much a loving and nurturing home can impact the life of a child.  

 Matt and Joanna have had a strong connection to MacKillop Family Services for several years now. Their commitment to promoting awareness around the urgent need for foster carers continues to inspire everyone who knows them.