Finn's kidney battle
"What do kidneys do?" Finn Potter, 12, asks his mother at their Waipapa home.
Both are talking about a life-changing event in their lives – the kidney disorder that struck when Finn was five years old.
The boy was diagnosed with a rare condition, Henoch-Schonlein purpura, which caused his immune system to attack his body and left him in a weakened, at times critical, state.
"Do I have a file?" he asks.
He does. It's a mass of paperwork, a reminder of a time when Finn's kidney problems saw him spending seven weeks in hospital – including a month at Starship in Auckland.
It all started when Finn was bitten on the thigh by a white tip spider while playing among water reeds behind his house.
A large welt on his leg, combined with lethargy and, for a time, an unexplained rash were all tell-tale signs something was wrong.
He also had difficulty walking and developed a migratory swelling.
Louisa and Finn sought medical advice but got no real answers until swelling across the forehead prompted a third visit to the doctor.
"That's when I really freaked," Louisa recalls. "Finn's whole forehead got really big and he had a temperature."
Doctors in Kerikeri sent Finn straight to Whangarei.
High protein levels in his urine, a sure sign that kidneys were not functioning properly, led to a kidney biopsy – and a diagnosis.
Finn developed pneumonia and had to have fluid drained from his lungs. He was not getting any oxygen and was flown to Auckland by helicopter.
"He was all wired up to the machines and then all of a sudden it just flat lined," Louisa says.
A paramedic on board ripped the boy's shirt open and found all of the monitors had fallen off.
"It was such a horrible moment."
Louisa stayed at Starship for four weeks, sleeping where and when she could. Her son lost the ability to walk and didn't eat for four weeks. Finn was bed-ridden.
Louisa remembers hospital staff holding her son down to get tubes into his mouth and nose.
She had to leave the room but could still hear his screams down the hall.
Finn was weaned off steroids over a year after he left the hospital. His immune system now works overtime and he routinely overcomes illnesses faster than the rest of his family.
His time in the hospital was in a sense a lifetime away. But the harsh realities of kidney related illnesses are still evident for hundreds of youngsters like him.
That's why The Bay Chronicle is backing Project Kidney, a fundraiser being run by the Mad Butcher and Suburban Newspapers Community Trust.
Proceeds will help buy four haemodialysis machines for the first ever national dedicated Paediatric Haemodialysis Unit at Starship.
The campaign is being co-ordinated in conjunction with Kidney Kids – the charity set up to help youngsters like Finn and their families throughout the country.
"People getting a diagnosis like this they don't know what the outcomes are going to be so they're pretty devastated," chief executive chief Paul Norfolk says.
"We look after families holistically – that means there's money and emotional support available. We're there for them 24/7, any time all the time."