The husband-and-wife army captains fighting for their son's life

Laura and Tane North are walking 700km from Wellington to Auckland to raise funds for their son who has microcephaly and an undiagnosed genetic condition.

By Steve Landells
It's fitting that Laura and Tane North are embarking on a 700km walking challenge from Wellington to Auckland to raise funds for their disabled son.
Born with microcephaly and an undiagnosed genetic condition, three-year-old Elijah cannot speak, is legally blind, fed through a tube and has 14 health issues.
Yet the loving couple from Trentham, who are both New Zealand Army captains, are determined to do all they can for their son who cannot step out on his own.
Keen to raise $56,000 on their mammoth trek, they hope the money can be put towards regular treatment sessions at the world-leading Neurological and Physical Abilitation (NAPA) Centre in Sydney.
"Elijah can only move around on a walker, but he's so motivated to walk," says the mum-of-four.
"As an able- bodied person, walking is something we take for granted. Tane and I can both walk, so that is why we chose the walk to Auckland."
Not expected to walk, Elijah has come along in leaps and bounds at the NAPA Centre.
After a normal pregnancy with her third child, Laura (33) initially saw "nothing untoward" with baby Elijah, who weighed a healthy 2.9kg, despite being born four weeks premature.
"For a long time, I had my head in the sand," explains Laura, who has two older children, Ellamae (11) and TJ (6).
"He was my baby and he was amazing."
Over time, however, it was apparent all was not well. Put on a permanent feeding tube, Elijah was formally diagnosed with microcephaly, which means he has a small head because of abnormal brain development.
"Two days on the journey stand out as the hardest," recalls Laura. "One was when Elijah was aged 12 months and the development therapist said, 'We need to start thinking about a wheelchair.' This made me think that Elijah's disability is permanent and not going to go away.
"The other was at 15 months when a paediatrician said, 'If he gets through the next few winters, he should have a life.' At no point do you ever think your child will die before you. These were two really rough days."
For husband Tane (38), the darker moments arrived in different ways.
"Seeing Elijah sat next to other children and not being able to do what they could do filled me with sorrow," he says.
"It was almost like I was in mourning at a funeral, trying to figure out what was going on."
Life can be demanding for the couple, particularly so for Laura as Tane has recently been on a 12-month deployment overseas, working in Israel and Lebanon.
Days of dealing with feeding tubes, physical therapy and medical appointments can be draining, yet the pair always look for positives.
"From the outside, it looks like a lot of work, but he's Elijah, he's awesome and we love him to pieces," tells Laura.
"We feel very blessed and most of the time he is happy. He relies a lot on his hearing and loves anything to do with music."
Says Tane of his devoted wife, "She's a very strong lady who puts everything into her children. Laura won't take no for an answer, not even when doctors said Elijah would never walk."
Nine months ago, Laura and Tane's life became even more demanding when they gave birth to their fourth child, Thea, who was born with Down syndrome.
The proud parents were aware of Thea's condition during pregnancy, but they never considered aborting.
"Many people thought having a second child with a disability would be too much to handle, especially as my husband is away overseas for long spells," explains Laura.
"But if we had decided not to bring Thea into the world, it was almost like saying Elijah's life has no value."
Having kicked off in Wellington on March 13, the walkers are scheduled to arrive at the Auckland War Memorial on March 23.
Thanks to generosity from the military community, and financial aid in the past from the Returned Services' Association and New Zealand Defence Force, Elijah has been able to attend intensive treatment sessions at the Napa Centre.
Undergoing the therapy has been "life-changing", according to Laura, who says that under the programme, Elijah has advanced from only being able to pull himself forward 1cm to now walking with the aid of a walker.
"The progress he has made has been absolutely amazing," asserts Tane. "If you look at his strength and weight development, he has massively benefited from the therapy."
The next step is to get Elijah walking and the Norths believe their best chance is finding $56,000 of funding for four intensive three-week long blocks at the centre over the next two years.
The motivated couple, who are taking both Elijah and Thea with them on the mammoth trek, will be walking between 60-70km a day for an 11-day period.
Tane, however, is matter of fact about what lies ahead for him and his wife.
"Everyone has their own struggles that are very real to them," he concludes. "We have Elijah and Thea, but ours are no worse or harder than anybody else's challenges. It is important to always remember that."
You can contribute to Elijah's treatment on their givealittle page here

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