A SIGH OF RELIEF
WHEN OLIVE WAS BORN WITHOUT THE ABILITY TO BREATHE, RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE GAVE THE RUSSELL FAMILY PEACE OF MIND WITH A NEW HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Renee and James Russell already had two little angels in their growing brood – but it wasn’t until the birth of their third daughter, Olive, that their tight-knit family felt complete.
While theirs has been a journey of love, it hasn’t always been easy or straightforward. After Renee went into labour and delivered Olive via C-section, doctors quickly realised Olive was unable to breathe on her own. “She had no air passing through her mouth or nose, so we were immediately flown out of where we lived in Armidale, northern NSW, to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, and Olive was put in NICU,” says James. “We didn’t know what was going on – we actually thought she’d only be there for a few days.”
As the days turned into weeks, the Russell family found themselves away from home with nowhere to stay.
“A social worker had found us some basic accommodation at the hospital but by that stage my parents were there as well, so there were three of us staying in a room with one single bed,” explains James.
Luckily the Russell family found a more suitable alternative when they were offered accommodation at Ronald Mcdonald House Newcastle.“you have no idea how much of a difference it makes when you’re in that situation,” says James. “We couldn’t afford to be paying for long-term accommodation and Olive was so unwell that we didn’t want to be far away.”
During Olive’s treatment and recovery Renee and James each took turns caring for their young daughter. “Once Olive was down one of us would go back to sleep and the other one would stay at the hospital,” says James.
Since then Olive, now 5, has had three major reconstructive surgeries to help her breathe on her own. “It’s been six weeks in hospital each time and we’ve had to go over to Perth to do that,” explains James.
While Olive’s condition has improved throughout the years, she still requires 24-hour care and another extensive operation. “She will need another major reconstructive surgery so that will probably be six weeks in Newcastle and we will stay at Ronald Mcdonald House,” says Renee. “After that one we’re not sure of what the process will be.”
For Mum and Dad, caring for Olive has been a labour of love. “She’s still in 24-hour care and we don’t have assistance with that,” says Renee.
Much of this care involves clearing Olive’s tracheostomy every few hours. “With a tracheostomy you need suctioning, especially when they’re younger and at one stage it was a couple of hundred times in a day,” explains James.
Olive still has trouble breathing on her own and speaking, but won’t let anything get in the way of making friends and spending time with her siblings.
Both Renee and James credit their time at Ronald Mcdonald House with ensuring a continued positive environment for their daughter and an ongoing community of support in their own lives.
“We’ve come across other families with kids who’ve had tracheostomies and we’ve made good friends there – they know where you’re at and they understand – the support is amazing.”
What can we expect from your new show?
A show that feels fresh. It’s from my perspective, but we have tried to make a show that is relatable and reflects contemporary life in Australia – the good, the bad, the ugly. I think people will watch and know someone that talks like that or see something that’s happened to them in a sketch.
You have a great ensemble, including Matt Okine and Becky Lucas, and big guest stars like Kat Stewart and Tim Minchin as well …
It was a dream. All the people we got on the show, I’m a massive fan of. I had to try really hard not to fanboy in front of them.
Is there anyone you didn’t get on the show who you would love to work with?
Eric Bana would be amazing. Actually, I think he expressed some level of interest and I did send him a tweet saying, “Can you please come on my show?” but he’s quite busy. He didn’t follow me back. I’m still waiting.
Do you have to pinch yourself at how well your career is going?
Absolutely. Five years ago, I was working as a tax consultant and doing stand-up after work. If I don’t have pinch-myself moments, I’d have gotten a big head.
ABOVE: James, Renee, Olive, Ella and Charlie, with pets Coco and Molly.LEFT: Olive recovering in ICU after major surgery and (far left) on the ward post-surgery.