By Melissa Grant
When Grovedale boy Marley Reddington was born at 24 weeks, doctors didn’t know whether he would survive.
He spent the first 180 days of his life in hospital and has been diagnosed with multiple complications from extreme prematurity, including chronic lung disease.
But after a rocky start to life, Marley is now a happy, engaging and determined five-year- old who loves George from Peppa Pig, collecting rocks, playing ‘floor is lava’ and Duplo.
The energetic boy also loves pretend play, however going to parks is really difficult as he requires oxygen.
But late last year, he was gifted a safe place to play outdoors when the Starlight Children’s Foundation granted his wish for a new cubby house.
The cubby – which features a well-stocked kitchen, seating area, Avengers pillows and a barista machine – was a complete surprise for Marley, as Starlight had installed it while he was out at appointments.
He was blown away by the cubby reveal where he was greeted by Captain Starlight, confetti and cupcakes as he walked down a red carpet.
Mum Kellie and Dad Steve say the cubby has given Marley a special place of his own to share fun, smiles and laughter with his friends and brother.
“At first he was overwhelmed, then couldn’t stop smiling and got straight to work role-playing,” Kellie said.
“Ever since, he has wanted to play in it every day from the moment he woke up.”
Kellie said the cubby house provided a safe play space for Marley, who was often not well enough to venture too far from home.
“Marley has a complex range of conditions, arising from his extreme premature birth at 24 weeks. Every system in his body is impacted in some way,” she explained.
“He requires oxygen, tube-feeds and also has a tube for bowel washouts.
“Parks are risky not only from a health perspective – illnesses such as colds, Covid, but also from a safety perspective – risk of tubes getting caught/pulled out; risk of falling from heights.
“Marley’s cubby house provides a place for him to simply and safely enjoy independent play, whenever it suits him.”
Marley weighed just 687g and was 29cm long when he was born at 24 weeks.
Kellie had been under the care of the Mercy Hospital from early on in her pregnancy as she was at high risk of delivering prematurely as her first son was born at 30 weeks.
After showing signs of labour at 23 weeks, Kellie was put on bed rest at the Mercy.
“A few days later my waters broke, so we knew we weren’t going to make it to our goal of 32 weeks,” she recalled.
“After a few more days of bed rest I got an infection, at which point it was safer for the baby ‘to be out rather than in’.”
Marley was delivered via emergency caesarean.
“Doctors didn’t know if Marley would survive and his journey in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Special Care Nursery (SCN) was rocky and not straightforward,” Kellie said.
“Marley ended up spending 180 days across Mercy Hospital for Women, Royal Children’s Hospital and Geelong Hospital before he came home for the first time.”
However Marley was only home for two days before being readmitted to hospital where he spent the next two months.
Marley continues to have multiple stints between Geelong and the Royal Children’s hospital, with visits ranging from an overnight stay to weeks or months.
He also has regular appointments at both hospitals and weekly sessions with his therapists at Kids Plus Foundation, and undergoes multiple surgery visits each year.
The Starlight Children’s Foundation has had a long involvement with the Reddington Family, with Captain Starlight often visiting Marley’s hospital room.
Kellie said Starlight had been a blessing for Marley, who often becomes upset in hospital while separated from family and friends.
“Captain Starlight is seen as a friend and puts a smile on his face,” she said.
Kellie said the visits also provided Marley with a much-needed break from the ongoing medical treatments and monitoring that make up most of his days in hospital.
She encourages people to support the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which makes a difference to the lives of sick kids like her son.
“They support kids who don’t get to enjoy the same freedoms as others the same age,” she said.
“Starlight’s contribution is not just about putting a smile on a child’s face, but also the warm fuzzy feeling their parents and guardians get when they see their child happy.”
To donate or for more information, visit https://www.starlight.org.au/