Timaru youngster hits milestones against the odds
When Luca Fassbender was born 13 weeks premature, weighing just 810 grams and suffering 24 different medical complications, his parents didn't know what the future held for him.
"It's so hard to believe now how small he was and what he's been through", his mother Jaclyn Smith said.
Almost four years later, Luca, 3, is walking, talking, making friends at kindergarten and looking forward to celebrating his fourth birthday next month.
But it hasn't been easy, the young battler has spent more than 400 days in Christchurch receiving medical treatment.
Smith said her son had been born with chronic lung disease, which meant he needed to breathe through a tracheostomy tube in his throat, and global developmental delay.
He's also had a colostomy bag because of problems feeding and digesting food.
Luca spent the first 260 days of his life in the neonatal unit at Christchurch Hospital.
On top of that, Luca and his mum have also spent more than 255 days living at Ronald McDonald House, in Christchurch, while he has undergone various hospital treatments.
The youngster made it home to Timaru, for the first time, at the end of 2013.
Since then, Smith said his progress had been "quite amazing", especially in the past 12 months when he managed to reach a number of milestones.
"He's learnt about 60-odd sign languages, just from me teaching him and saying words. And, with having the tracheostomy removed, he's been saying more words since then ... and he started to walk last year.
"Walking was quite a surprise, it was quite amazing. He still had a walking frame when we started Kowhai Kindergarten, that really helped him, just to get around for a while.
"Then he just pushed it away at kindy ... and then started taking a few steps and then kept practicing, I think he just wanted the independence."
Given his start in life, Smith said her son's progress had been remarkable.
"We are so proud of him. he's a real character, everyone that comes across him falls in love with him.
"There's just something about him that people are attracted to, the journey's been hard work but it's all worth it when you see him reaching all these milestones.
"It's so hard to believe he's going to Timaru South School next year."
Luca's understanding of sign language was now so good, "I almost don't need to tell him", she said.
"I'd like to keep the sign language going, I think it's a good way to communicate. One day he might come across someone who can't talk."