Real Life

Our little boy’s giant battle

Little David has proved himself to be one tough tot

When Lucy Bennett beat a rare and deadly form of cancer, she had just one dream in her heart – to one day become a mother. But as a single 41-year-old, the odds seemed stacked against her. That was until Lucy went online and reconnected with an old classmate, Stephen Westwood. “At school, he was Sporty Spice and I was Arty Spice,” recalls Lucy, “but now it turned out we were living very close to each other, leading parallel lives.”

After a whirlwind romance, the Auckland couple, both 46, knew they couldn’t waste any time starting a family. Fertility doctors gave them less than one percent-chance of conceiving, but they were soon expecting a first child for them both. “David is a miracle baby,” laughs Stephen. “They had no idea who they were dealing with!”

Their son was born at just over 33 weeks. “He came out roaring – small but strong,” says Lucy, a drama teacher.

David was born premature and showed a fighting spirit from day one. “He came out with a roar,” tells Lucy.

“We named him David, after Michelangelo’s statue of David, but now the name is fitting as he’s like David versus Goliath.” Now aged two and a half, David needs all the fight he can muster after suffering from a series of strokes this year. The first came in January, while he was at a birthday party. Lucy recalls him “going a bit wobbly, veering off to the side and falling over”.

The GP initially thought it was an ear infection, but later that day, David was in his high chair when Lucy and Stephen noticed he had lost movement down one side of his body. “We ran for the door to get him to hospital,” says Lucy. But in the car, they saw that one side of David’s face had drooped. “Then he started throwing up. We knew it was bad.” Three weeks later, David had a second stroke and was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis type 1, that causes tumours to form on nerve tissue, as well as moyamoya syndrome, a life-threatening condition that affects blood flow to the brain and can cause strokes.

Until January, David had been a lively toddler who loved to sing and make people laugh. But the strokes have cruelly left him with limited movement in his left arm and leg. “Arm stuck, leg stuck,” he says, frustrated that he can no longer walk unaided or pick up a toy with his limp left hand.

Stephen and Lucy say David has always been a cheerful boy, despite his struggles.

Fight for life

Lucy and Stephen have both given up work to care for their son around the clock. “What more can we do?” asks his doting mum. “We love him, we stay positive and we keep him calm. Each morning, David wakes up and says, ‘I’m awake,’ and I think, ‘Yes, you are. We’ve had another night with you in our lives.’”

It’s a double tragedy for Lucy, who was 34 years old when she was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare form of head and neck cancer. She beat the disease but struggled to conquer her fear of death until she found Buddhism. The religion gave her the courage to take a 12-month sabbatical from her job to attend a clowning school in Florence, Italy. Lucy explains, “I just needed to put on a red nose and learn to laugh again.”

However, now she and Stephen live in fear of David having another stroke. Her husband tells, “We are both always on the lookout – is this normal behaviour or is it a sign there’s another one coming?” Late last month, David underwent delicate surgery to try to improve blood flow to the affected area of his brain and investigate two tumours.

It was a success, but the operation induced yet another stroke. Lucy and Stephen have found strength in the support they get from friends, family and colleagues, and they’re grateful for the Givealittle donations that allow them to spend time with David. Lucy says, “There is a quote from a Japanese philosopher who said, ‘Winter always turns to spring.’ That is how we are trying to live our life. We have our concerns, but David is a happy little boy. He has always been the one to tell us that everything is OK.”

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