Tiny Eva Mitchell has an infectious spirit, and her eyes light up whenever she laughs.
The loving affection she shows towards her mother Tiff (29) and older sister Mela (7) disguises the fact the five-year-old has fought to survive from the moment she was born.
Despite the countless times Tiff has been told to say goodbye to her precious little girl, Eva is still alive, and loving every moment of her life.
“She’s defied all the odds,” explains Tiff, whose daughter has been a face of Red Nose Day for children’s charity Cure Kids since 2011.
“She just keeps proving everyone wrong. She is a superhero.” It was during a routine 20-week scan that Tiff was told there was something wrong with her unborn baby. Her daughter had a diaphragmatic hernia – a hole in her diaphragm. It meant the baby’s organs were pushing up towards the heart and lung cavity, stopping the lungs from forming properly. “She had a less than 10% chance of survival. I was told she would be stillborn and was offered a chance to terminate,” says Tiff.
Despite the heartbreaking news, Tiff was determined to give her baby the best chance in life.
“I wanted to let nature take its course,” she says. “I spent years reading magazines, and every time I’d read about a sick child, I used to think that’s sad, turn the page and carry on with my life. I never imagined that one day that person would be me.” Miraculously, Tiff gave birth to Eva. She chose the name because it sounded angelic. But, despite the miracle, Tiff knew her life was never going to be the same again.
For the last five years, home for the young mother and her two daughters has been Auckland’s Starship Hospital, where Eva is permanently based, so doctors can monitor her condition daily. “Eva doesn’t wallow, or take pity on herself. She doesn’t realise she’s sick. She lives her life with a hiss and a roar, and she’s always laughing.”
In her young life, Eva has endured multiple surgeries, 11 bouts of pneumonia and has suffered several strokes. There’s no cure for Eva. Her stomach and bowel do not function. She wears a little backpack wherever she goes, but the bag will never be filled with school lunches or her favourite books. Instead, it keeps Eva alive, providing her with nutrients fed directly into her bloodstream.
“If she ate, food would just sit in her stomach and nothing would happen to it. It’s like she has a plastic bag for a stomach,” explains Tiff.
Mum shares a bed with her eldest daughter Mela at Starship, just so the pair can be by Eva’s side at all times, with Mela attending school down the road from the hospital. For the first time in five years, the family has recently been allowed to spend two days a week at an apartment, just a nine-minute ambulance ridefrom Starship. But the majority of Eva and Mela’s life has been spent at the hospital.
“It may seem bizarre that I raise my children in a public place, where you share showers and bathrooms,” explains Tiff. “But the staff have been like a second family. My children have lots of mums and aunties. Everyone has helped me raise these two little girls and tried to give them a normal life.”
Eva adores babies and softly cuddles a lifelike doll during our interview, and it saddens Tiff that her daughter will never grow up to become a mum. She’s accepted that every second with Eva is precious, and treats each day like it could be her last.
“I know that when Eva leaves, she will have made this world a better place. With her courage, she has not only touched my life, but also the lives of others.”
Eva is an ambassador for Cure Kids, an organisation helping to find cures for life-threatening illnesses affecting children. Their annual Red Nose Day appeal, which begins this month, is a chance for Eva to spread her positive message of hope.
“Eva loves Red Nose Day, even more than her birthday,” Tiff smiles. “If sharing Eva’s story can make a difference and make someone else appreciate their life, then everything is worth it.“
Despite the hardships, there is always a silver lining. “Every morning, I stare into a pair of blue eyes and a pair of brown eyes, and they call me mum. I’m the luckiest person alive.”
For more information about Red Nose Day, visit curekids.org.nz