Chopper to the rescue
"What do kidneys do?" Finn Potter, 12, asks his mother at their Northland home.
Both are talking about a life-changing event – the kidney disorder that struck when Finn was 5 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.
Mum 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 says. "Finn's whole forehead got really big and he had a temperature."
Doctors sent Finn straight to Whangarei Hospital.
A kidney biopsy revealed high protein levels, a sure sign that his kidneys were not functioning properly.
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 flatlined," Louisa says.
A paramedic on board ripped the boy's shirt open, only to find that 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 him down to get tubes into his mouth and nose.
She had to leave the room but could still hear her son's 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 Whangarei Leader 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 Paul Norfolk.
"We look after families holistically – that means there's money and emotional support available. We're there for them 24/7, anytime all the time."