Julia's venturing against the wind

21:34, May 25 2012
Julia Latchem
YOUNG BATTLER: Fifteen-year-old Julia Latchem has suffered breathing difficulties all her life, but is still an active teen and involved in the scouts.

Once stricken by life-threatening breathing difficulties, Julia Latchem has finally found her voice.

As an infant, Julia was in and out of hospital, as doctors tried to work out why she could not breath properly.

At seven months old, she had an operation at Auckland's Starship children's hospital, which grafted cartilage from her ribs on to her windpipe to widen it.

Now an active 15-year-old, she says her involvement with Scouts gave her the confidence to embrace life.

"I've had a lot more chances to do physical activity."

Julia's breathing problems began soon after birth. She was first diagnosed with a "floppy larynx" – a common condition which normally fixes itself as children grow. But at 10 weeks she had more breathing problems and was admitted to hospital. At seven months she collapsed again.


Paramedics trying to ventilate Julia found only a tube designed for a premature baby was small enough to fit through her larynx.

Julia was flown by air ambulance to Starship, where Dr Colin Barber diagnosed a subglottal stenosis – a severe narrowing of the breathing tubes. At the time, only three other children were known to have the condition.

Even after the operation, Julia's problems were not over. She needed further surgery and battled a series of infections.

Speech therapy was required when she started school.

Julia joined Keas – the scouting group for 6 to 8-year-olds.

She is now a Venturer – the group for 14 to 18-year-olds, and helps at Keas as junior leader.

She still feels the effects of her condition when she exercises.

"My breathing gets really heavy."

On her first tramp she could barely walk for a few minutes. As she kept trying, she found she could go further and further.

"Now I can go for ages."

Julia doesn't let her condition hold her back. She recently tramped into the Orongorongos and is part of the cast in the Scouts variety Gang Show.

Scouts New Zealand are fundraising for the Starship Foundation through the Let's Mobilise campaign, collecting old mobile phones which are then sold to a recycler.

The Dominion Post