AS he travels regularly to Melbourne for treatment for his rare Kawasaki disease, Epsom nine-year-old Jack Couzens dreams of taking the tent to the beach and camping under the stars in Queensland.
His dream will come true this month, after the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Bendigo branch arranged a trip for Jack and his family to visit Australia Zoo, Movie World and plenty of other Gold Coast attractions.
The foundation presented the bag of goodies, including the tickets, to Jack at his Epsom home on Sunday – and it was hard to keep the smile off his face.
Friends and family came along dressed as their favourite superhero to celebrate the day.
Mum Brenda Royle said the trip would make a big difference for Jack.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation has made a huge difference for his mental wellbeing, instead of worrying about the next doctor’s visit, he’s now so excited for this holiday,” she said.
“We’re very, very grateful.”
Jack’s battle against Kawasaki disease started in April last year, when he came home from school feeling sick.
He developed a rash, his eyes became bloodshot and he suffered from a serious fever, but doctors struggled to put a finger on what it was.
After two weeks, an experienced doctor in Bendigo recognised the symptoms almost immediately as Kawasaki disease – an autoimmune disease where the blood vessels become inflamed.
Unfortunately, Jack’s diagnosis came just a few days too late.
Without treatment for the first 10 days, the disease takes hold and cannot be eradicated, having caused permanent damage to his heart.
Ms Royle said the disease had changed Jack’s life.
“There’s a constant back-and-forth to Melbourne to have heart checks, there’s constant monitoring,” she said.
“He’s not allowed contact sport, can only do limited exercise. Within himself, he says he feels normal.
“But mentally, it’s certainly changed him.”
His visits to Melbourne have gone from once every two weeks, to once every few months, but the fear of a sudden relapse continues to hang over the family.
Despite the immense misfortune of contracting the rare disease – which effects about 10 in every 100,000 children aged less than 10 – the Epsom family have tried to use their experience to help others.
Ms Royle created her own information pack, delivering it to as many practices in Bendigo as possible.
It contains information on the early warning signs to help others find the right diagnosis within the first 10 days.
Since Jack’s diagnosis, the family has come into contact with two other Bendigo families who have had a run in with Kawasaki disease.
Fortunately for the other families, they were able to receive the correct diagnosis in time.
Ms Royle said they wanted to raise as much awareness as possible to help others confronted with the disease.
“I hope that what we’ve done has been able to help others,” she said.
Jack will fly out to Queensland on November 17.