It’s a good day for seven-year-old Patrick Walsh. During his photoshoot with the Weekly, he’s a ray of sunshine – bouncing on the trampoline with his brother and sister and playing peek-a-boo under the table. But normally, the energy levels of this Auckland child are so low that he’s often too sick to play or give his family cuddles.
Patrick has a rare heart defect known as Ebstein’s anomaly. It’s devastating for his mum Melanie and dad John to see their youngest son suffering, having to accept that one day his condition could kill him.
Desperate to save his life, Melanie and John are trying to raise funds for an operation that will mend Patrick’s broken heart, but it can only be done in the US.
“It’s so hard a as a mother to see your child go through so much pain,” says Melanie, who’s also mum to Alec (11) and Elise (9). “Each night when you’re lying in bed, you start worrying about everything. I want to get to a point where I can sleep during the night, knowing Patrick will be okay.”
When he was born, Patrick seemed like a normal, healthy baby. In fact, Melanie even opted for an amniocentesis test during her pregnancy, and nothing abnormal was picked up.
But when Patrick was three years old, he developed a persistent cough. Doctors initially thought it was asthma- related, but after an X-ray, they found the true cause.
One of Patrick’s heart valves was in the wrong place and another valve didn’t open or close properly, allowing blood to leak back into the atrium.
To make matters worse, he also had an enlarged heart and needed grommets.
“When we look back, we realise Patrick didn’t have the same activity levels as the other children, and we could never figure out why,” she explains.
“The diagnosis was a shock. Our family leaped from normal life to one filled with doctor’s appointments and hospital visits. I struggled emotionally and it took me more than a year to get used to this new life.”
There are no surgeons in New Zealand or Australia who specialise in Ebstein’s anomaly operations, so Patrick must travel to the US in May for open-heart surgery. Although the family has full medical insurance, this doesn’t cover overseas surgeries, and they haven’t been able to receive any financial support from their local district health board. Melanie and John desperately need to raise $200,000 to help save Patrick’s life.
“It’s a matter of urgency and it needs to be done now,” says Melanie. “The whole ordeal has been very difficult, especially when you have other children as well. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Without the surgery, we might be lucky if Patrick reaches his teens. He is now in stage two heart failure and unfortunately cannot participate in any regular physical activity like other kids.”
Despite his illness, Melanie and John strive to give Patrick a normal life.
“We do all we can to manage his symptoms so he is able to go to school and be around other children. It takes a lot of juggling and managing, but it’s worth it. Everyone around him finds ways to make him feel like he fits in. His brother and sister have been amazing support for us and they always ensure their brother is well looked after.”
The affectionate little boy has a strong pain threshold and tries to be active as much as he can, despite his limitations.
It’s a dream for Melanie to not only save her son’s life, but also see him become the vivacious boy she knows he can be.
“He can’t do any physical activity now,” she says, “but after the operation he'll have a higher tolerance and be able to run around. That will be truly amazing.”
How you can help:
To follow his story, visit facebook.com/fixingpatrick.