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

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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.

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