Season’s Greetings: Looking back at 2016

It’s been another busy year at Children First but with eight children and a mum still with us over Christmas and the New year , there’s no time to rest, which is just the way we like it.

Reflections from Elizabeth

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Busy is certainly the word to sum up 2016 at Children First Foundation, and it is also the first word that comes to mind when I reflect on my first three months with the Foundation.  It’s been busy.. a very good busy…. and also very exciting.

I vividly recall my first visit to the Miracle sMiles Retreat in August.  It was prior to my appointment as CEO.  Angel and her dad were playing in the courtyard; there were indoor soccer games and outdoor basketball games; volunteers were whipping up some weekend treats; some of the children were assisting others with their physio routines; music and singing and laughter abounded in the living room; and Pat and Anna were putting another log on the fire as they prepared for a volunteer induction session.  The business and excitement hasn’t stopped!

Two things struck me on that Saturday in August.

Firstly, the Retreat radiated happiness, positivity and joy.  The genuine care and compassion of the children to each other was overwhelming.  Since that day, every time I am with the children and at Kilmore, this feeling is fuelled.

Secondly – trust.  As I sat in on the induction, I kept thinking about the extraordinary  trust the children and their families place in Children First –  complete strangers on the other side of the world.  At the time, to me this trust was in the Foundation’s staff and volunteers. What I have since experienced is that this trust extends to our referrers, the surgeons and the medical teams, the allied health staff, the hospitals, our broader supporters.  And the trust is reciprocated.  We truly do trust each other and the roles we all play to change the children’s lives.  This includes the children who so actively participate in their own recovery and transformation – because they too trust.

May I take this opportunity to sincerely thank you all for welcoming me so warmly to Children First Foundation. I have spent many hours meeting, greeting and listening over the past three months; everyone has been incredibly giving of their time, knowledge and very wise counsel.

I would especially like to thank the staff, Board and volunteers for their extraordinary commitment and dedication to the children and the Foundation throughout 2016.  With all the business and excitement that is Children First, there is never a dull moment.  Each day is tackled with a smile, a spirit of collegiality, and a true belief that some very special children deserve a helping hand.

2017 is shaping up to be another busy, exciting year at Children First. I look forward to sharing it with you.  Season’s greetings and best wishes for the year ahead.
Elizabeth Lodge, CEO


Fabulous kids

It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since we shared this season of good will with the six children who were with us at the end of last year.  Theresa is the only one from this group still with us.  Thanks to a generous donation at our Gala Ball in October, she was able to enjoy a week at home with her family before returning for the first of two final operations.  She’s presently recovering from surgery she underwent a month ago with Mr Will Blake and the team at Cabrini.  Then she has one final surgery ahead of her, ensuring this will be her third and final Christmas in Australia.  She’s been an absolute trouper and worked so hard on her recovery and physiotherapy.  You can read more about the amazing Theresa in New Idea magazine!

The other children who began 2016 with us were Ali, Magdalene, Tina, Angela and Itoro.  Farah was with the craniofacial unit in Adelaide, preparing for surgery in the new year. Farah and her mother returned home in March. You can read more about Farah here.

The first child to join us in 2016 was Kylie from Vanuatu.  You may remember Kylie from her time with us in 2012.   Kylie returned for assessment with orthopaedic surgeon Associate Professor Leo Donnan, and the good news was she needed no further surgery.  The team at OAPL (Orthopaedic Appliance Pty Ltd) gave her prosthetic leg a quick ‘service’ and she was able to return home.

Magdalene returned home in April having undergone renal surgery with Mr Chris Kimber at Monash Children’s Hospital.  Prior to that Children First had arranged her heart surgery in India with Dr Cherian, after a concerted effort by Children First case manager Marina Te Maro.  You can read more about Magdalene here.

Tina was eager to return home to meet her new baby sister who was born while Tina was in Australia and she was finally ready to leave in May. Thanks to surgeon Leo Donnan and St Vincent’s Private for your care of Tina.  Tina’s story appeared in the Sunday Herald Sun.

Ali is the older brother of Motaz, who was with us for two years.  Ali arrived early in 2015 and the brothers spent a week together before Motaz returned home and Ali’s treatment began.  Ali worked hard on his recovery  because he had some goals to achieve,  such as walking and running and being able to kneel for prayer. He also wanted to be physically able to board the bus so he could return to University – there’s no disabled public transport in Palestine.  Since returning home this year he’s enjoying Uni and is doing well. Leo Donnan and St Vincent’s Private provided the treatment for both boys.

In July Pulei arrived from Tonga and Choity and her mother Shima joined us from Bangladesh.  Pulei had an ameloblastoma on her jawline which was removed by Mr Will Blake and his team at Cabrini.  She will remain with us into the new year.

Choity was referred to us by Atom Rahman from AACHOL Trust, a charity based in Bangladesh.  Born with three legs, complex internal anatomy and vision impaired, she underwent a seven hour operation to rebuild her body in what surgeons believe was the first of its kind in the world. Before operating at Monash Children’s Hospital, surgeon Chris Kimber consulted with other expert international colleagues to ensure the best procedure was in place.   Choity’s story was reported in the Herald Sun and on SBS TV news.  She is recovering under the care of staff at our Miracle sMiles Retreat.

In August we greeted Angel from the Philippines, Innocent from Zambia and Kiko a young man from Indonesia.  Innocent sustained burns when he was a baby.  On 1 December he underwent surgery for skin grafts and to release contractures on his leg with plastic surgeon Mr Chris Coombs at Linacre Private Hospital. Once healed,  Leo Donnan will reconstruct his foot.  Kiko has a tumour on his pituitary gland causing rapid growth, similar to Yafi who we helped a year ago.  He is a little older than the children we usually assist, but with contacts already in place who were eager to help him, we were happy to help too and we’re pleased we did – what a sense of humour he has!  He has undergone surgery with Mr Peter McNeil at St Vincent’s Private.

Four year old Angel was born with a disfiguring protrusion on her face which hung from her forehead and covered her nose and mouth.  She was referred to us by our friends at Interplast.  After a short stay at the Retreat in Kilmore, she and dad Dale travelled to Adelaide where surgeon Mr Walter Flapper from the Craniofacial Unit at Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital operated to reveal the little face that had been hidden.  The Age newspaper produced a beautiful story of Angel’s journey in words and photos.  We also thank her parents for allowing their little girl to be our ‘Christmas Angel’ promoting our Christmas campaign this year.

September saw the arrival of the ‘three amigos’ from PNG – Edward, who was returning for his second surgery, Trophimus and Daniel.  Like Koko and Itoro before them, the boys were referred to us by No Roads – Health whose mission is to provide medical assistance to people in PNG.   All three boys are here for orthopaedic surgery with Leo Donnan at St Vincent’s Private.

With her injured foot reconstructed, Itoro was able to  wear pretty shoes for the first time and dance at the Gala Ball.  The Herald Sun reported on her excitement.  Itoro was with us for eleven months and returned home in October.  In November we said goodbye to Angela who underwent spinal surgery with Mr Michael Johnson at Cabrini.  Angela’s progress from underweight girl with a bent back to the young lady who returned home was reported in the Herald Sun.  We thank the Jack & Robert Smorgon Families Foundation for their contribution towards Angela’s care in Australia.

Fabulous supporters

As we reflect on the children we’ve met and helped in 2016, we also recall the wonderful companies, groups and individuals who have contributed in so many ways during 2016.   We’d love to share a few of the highlights with you:

The annual Casey Wealth Advisers ladies luncheon, organised by Lisa O’Sullivan and Haley Dore, raised $8,400 for Children First this year.  This donation brings their total raised in just four year to the fantastic amount of $32,000. Thanks Lisa and Haley and your fabulous guests for this generous support.

We were delighted to receive a grant of $100,000US from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman. The grant was announced at a luncheon attended by Mark Tilley from Newman’s Own and Michael Clayton and Robert Forrester from Newman’s Own Foundation.

The Labour of Love Auxiliary, with the amazing Gerry Lamers at the helm, began supporting Children First in 2006.  ‘Gerry and her Girls’ as they are affectionately known raised funds though knitting, sewing and selling Christmas cards, peddling their wares at shopping centres, a week at a time.  In June this year they presented us with a cheque for $25,000 bringing their total contribution to the Foundation to $202,550.  We thank them for their wonderful commitment.

The Year 12 students at Emmaus College drive a fundraising effort for Children First each year. This year they raised $6,166 and elected to sponsor Theresa’s ongoing care at the Retreat.  We’re so impressed with the enthusiasm of the students we meet each year and thank them and the College for their support.

We’re fortunate to have a number of corporate and community groups who conduct working bees at the Retreat each year.  At their recent working bee the team from Airbiz designed and built a set of steps and a balance beam for the kids to use for their physio sessions.  Retreat manager Pat Weldon describes the steps as  ‘an amazing construction’ – not surprising from a group of engineers!  We thank Airbiz, Telstra, AZRA, NAB, JLL, Dimension Data and the Albury Teachers Group for all they accomplished for us this year.

Pat, Michelle and the kids are loving their new ‘wheels’ courtesy of our friends at Priceline.  The bronze coloured Tarago proudly carries the logos of Children First and the Priceline Sisterhood Foundation.  We also thank Priceline for their contribution to our IT upgrade across our North Melbourne and Kilmore sites.

Fabulous events : save the dates

Sparkling High Tea was  a resounding success this year with almost 200 ladies, and a few gents, in attendance.  Children First’s volunteer Events Committee has driven this event with attendance increasing each year.  Children First ambassador, 3AW radio personality Dee Dee Dunleavy was our MC, with guest speaker Associate Professor Leo Donnan.  Next year’s event will be a lunch with details to be announced early in the New Year.

In October, we were delighted to welcome 300 guests to Children First’s Gala Ball in the Ballroom at the Park Hyatt.  For many of our guests it was the first opportunity to meet the Foundation’s new CEO, Elizabeth Lodge.  You’ll find a message from Elizabeth on our website.   Save the Date for next year’s Gala, when the event will move to the Plaza Ballroom at the Regent Hotel in the heart of Melbourne on Saturday 7 October.

Fabulous award recipients

In recognition of Children First’s 15th anniversary in 2015, the Foundation Board established a Humanitarian Award.  Health professionals wishing to develop skills to assist children with conditions treated through our Miracle sMiles Program are invited to apply. The award will be presented annually at our Gala Ball.

The 2016 Award was presented to Pauline Macleod, Allied Health Manager and physiotherapist at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Melbourne.  Pauline will attend a conference in the UK and undertake courses in clinical pilates and yoga, skills that will enhance the post-surgical treatment of the children helped by Children First as well as many other patients. 

The recipient of the 2015 Award, Philippa Tesselaar, attended the 2016 Ball and spoke of the benefits she gained from the award.  It enabled her to travel to the Philippines with an Interplast Australia and New Zealand surgical team, an experience she described as life-changing.  Philippa is a plastics/reconstructive nurse at St Vincent’s Private.  Children First is proud to have such great ambassadors in Philippa and Pauline.

From all at Children First thanks to all our generous friends and supporters, and wishing you season’s greetings and a happy and safe new year.