Bonding in difficult times

When Samantha gave birth to Kimberley she knew life would be challenging with three children. But Kimberley was born with Hirschsprung's disease, and the family had to grow together to help.

Samantha and her partner Gasia, both from Samoa, were living in one room of an unsuitable house when she gave birth to Kimberley. Samantha knew it would be a challenge to manage three children under five in such a small space, but then Kimberley was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease.

“I was sent home straight after the birth,” she says. “Kimberley seemed fine. But after three days she had not had a poo. Her stomach was swollen and she was not feeding.”

Kimberley knew something was wrong, and took her straight to Middlemore Hospital where they were transferred to Starship. There Kimberley’s diagnosis was confirmed.

Hirschsprung's disease is when a baby is born without the correct nerve cells in the bowel, so they can’t have a bowel motion. Kimberley needed minor surgery for immediate relief, and then major surgery to correct the problem, and would have to stay in Starship for several months.

“I stayed too. It was difficult. Gasia couldn’t work because he had to look after our other two children, Christopher, 5 and Tito, 3. We had very little money and no car for me to come home or Gasia to come and visit.”

Kimberley and Gasia, who speak English as a second language, were also struggling to understand the medical terminology and what help they were entitled too.

“We struggled for three weeks, and then we were introduced to Tala from FSM,” says Samantha.

A social worker at Starship knew Tala and had called her for help. She could see the family were struggling. Tala arranged for an interpreter from Samoan Family Services, and gave Gasia a lift to the hospital to visit. She also arranged for Starship to provide taxi vouchers to Samantha so she could go home to shower and get clean clothes. This was a service they were happy to provide, but the language barrier had meant they didn’t understand the family’s needs.

Tala was able to rally Samantha’s family to help so Gasia could go back to work, and she was able to liaise with Plunket, staff at Starship, Oranga Tamariki and WINZ on behalf of Samantha, giving her the time to focus on her baby.

“I am very proud of Samantha, and the love and care she showed Kimberley in that difficult time,” says Tala. “The most important thing she could do for Kimberley was breast feed as that would help her heal and create a good bond. She was so dedicated to this, I was really impressed.”

Once Kimberley had her operation she was released home, but Tala wasn’t happy about the conditions the family were living in. She supported them to approach Housing New Zealand, and they were able to move into a modern and warm house that was better for Kimberley health-wise, but also meant the children could have their own room.

“It’s been a tough year,” says Samantha. “But things are better now. Kimberley and me have time to be mum and baby now.”

Samantha is very grateful for the support she received from FSM.

“I feel happy because Tala helped so much. We feel very lucky,” says Samantha, who also has advice for other families.

“You have to keep communicating. Tell people what it is you need. My English isn’t good but Tala helped me get the confidence I needed to tell people what the issues are, and how they can help.”