HEY JUDEY

Sac­ri­fic­ing it all for our boy: a Dragon’s tale

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - DAVID RICCIO CHIEF SPORTS WRITER

‘Hey Jude, don’t make it bad Take a sad song and make it bet­ter Re­mem­ber to let her into your heart Then you can start to make it bet­ter’

Mitchell All­good nuz­zles his cheek into the swollen face of his nine-month-old son Jude.

As he stands there hold­ing his son, All­good whis­pers The Bea­tles’ song into the tightly wound ban­dages en­cas­ing his baby’s soft head. It might be 1am. Per­haps three. Maybe even 4am. Time is in­signif­i­cant when your world is breath­ing in your arms.

The plas­tic chair be­side the burly St Ge­orge Illawarra Drag­ons for­ward sits empty. In­side one of the most spe­cial hospi­tal wards in Aus­tralia, Jude’s swollen body would coil in agony if his father dares take a seat, the sim­ple mo­tion of mov­ing from stand­ing to sit­ting ap­ply­ing in­tense pres­sure on his aching brain.

The 30-year-old’s em­brace of his son isn’t only an act of love and pro­tec­tion — but ne­ces­sity. Un­der the strictest of med­i­cal ad­vice, it will be al­most eight weeks be­fore he and the bravest of mums, All­good’s wife Madeleine, are al­lowed to lie Jude down.

Be­neath the crepe wraps, Jude was miss­ing part of his skull af­ter a marathon five-hour op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing 12 doc­tors at the Women’s and Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Ade­laide eight weeks ago.

Jude was born with a rare con­di­tion called cran­iosyn­os­to­sis, a skull de­for­mity that af­fects one in 2500 ba­bies.

So on that first night af­ter Jude’s lifechang­ing surgery, All­good stood in dark­ness for hours, rock­ing with tears trick­ling down his face, all the while singing, “Hey Jude”.

“I must have sung it a thou­sand times. We just didn’t leave his side,’’ All­good said. “We’d stay un­til we were phys­i­cally ex­hausted.’’ In the wake of a 2019 sea­son that Drag­ons fans lament the ef­fort of their mil­lion­dol­lar earn­ers and too many losses emerges the jour­ney of a footy-lov­ing fam­ily that’s far tougher than any wasted sea­son.

For ev­ery back­page story of the lat­est mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar player and rich­est-ever con­tract, there are 10 sto­ries of the jour­ney­men and bat­tlers train­ing just as hard on no more than $100,000. All­good is one of them.

A FATHER’S SAC­RI­FICE

With­out a con­tract in the NRL next sea­son, All­good has sac­ri­ficed his own ca­reer, largely in si­lence, to help save the life of his son.

To help cover Jude’s on­go­ing med­i­cal bills, All­good has had to fast-track his su­per­an­nu­a­tion from the Rugby League Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and re­luc­tantly ask his and Madeleine’s par­ents for money. With in­ter­state travel ex­penses to meet with spe­cial­ists, the costs to the young fam­ily go be­yond $30,000.

Po­lite, well-spo­ken and a gen­uine good bloke, All­good is unan­i­mously pop­u­lar among his peers and ri­vals, both here in the NRL and overseas in the English Su­per League.

The con­tacts in his phone stretch the course of nine years as a pro­fes­sional rugby league player: from Pen­rith and his days as a lo­cal ju­nior to four years with Parramatta, three years in Eng­land with Hull KR and Wake­field and the past two years with the Drag­ons.

‘UN­ABLE TO SHARE’

Lean­ing for­ward in­side a small meet­ing room at WIN Sta­dium on Tues­day to speak to The Sun­day Tele­graph, tears welling in his eyes, All­good says: “Jude’s jour­ney is a story we have been un­able to share with even our clos­est friends and fam­ily. There’s so many peo­ple who don’t know — even now.

“It was a case of while we were try­ing to fig­ure out and un­der­stand what was go­ing on with him, we couldn’t

phys­i­cally have that con­ver­sa­tion.’’

When read­ing this, Drag­ons play­ers and of­fi­cials will now un­der­stand why af­ter one par­tic­u­lar game this sea­son, the hardrun­ning for­ward sprinted to his car, ig­nor­ing a bro­ken rib and slight con­cus­sion from the match, just so he didn’t miss a flight to Ade­laide.

On July 23, All­good and Madeleine paced the wait­ing room floor of the Ade­laide hospi­tal’s in­ten­sive care unit — home to the pi­o­neer­ing Aus­tralian Cran­io­fa­cial Unit.

They can barely get the words out: “The The long­est five hours of our lives.”

The hospi­tal is a world leader in cran­io­fa­cial io­fa­cial surgery, so much so, doc­tors from across the world travel to Ade­laide to watch the pro­ce­dure un­fold ev­ery Tues­day.

The op­er­a­tion in­cluded a del­i­cate zigzag in­ci­sion over the top of Jude’s skull so it can be re­moulded by sur­geons in an in­cred­i­bly de­tailed and ar­du­ous op­er­a­tion that will re­lease his brain from the squashed area in­side his mis­shapen skull.

PAINSTAK­ING RE­SEARCH

The fam­ily, in­clud­ing Jude’s bub­bly three-yearold older brother Peter, spent a painstak­ing eight months meet­ing with GPs, chi­ro­prac­tors and neu­ro­sur­geons be­fore their own re­search and in­tu­ition led them to Ade­laide for a CT scan in June.

It re­vealed Jude’s cran­iosyn­os­to­sis con­di­tion, in which one or more of the bone junc­tions in the skull close too early, caus­ing prob­lems with nor­mal brain and skull growth.

With­out ur­gent surgery, Jude risked out­comes in­clud­ing devel­op­men­tal de­lays, mi­graines, blind­ness, deaf­ness, seizures and, in rare in­stances, death. “When he was born and the weeks af­ter, we didn’t ex­actly know what he had wrong,” All­good said.

“We played it off as a new­born with a dif­fer­ent head shape.

“I look back now and there were such ob­vi­ous signs along the way. Be­cause of the shape of his skull, his palate was mir­ror­ing the shape of his skull, so it was con­stantly mak­ing him tongue tied, which we had to have cor­rected twice.’’

And be­cause of his dif­fer­ent palate — long and nar­row — breast­feed­ing for Madeleine was ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

“For the whole eight months be­fore that, it was just a con­stant bat­tle to find what was wrong,” Madeleine said.

“The CT re­sults came back and we held it up to the light and Mitch looked and me and said: “‘Oh Judey’ … his whole skull had com­pletely fused. It was the first real mo­ment of what we were deal­ing with.’’

Up un­til the day that they saw their baby boy’s dis­pro­por­tion­ate skull un­der the light of the scan,

All­good and Madeleine had told few fam­ily or friends of their plight.

For one, they didn’t want peo­ple to think dif­fer­ently of their beau­ti­ful boy. But more im­por­tantly, they strug­gled to ver­balise

their pain.

‘IN­SIDE I WAS BURN­ING’

“Gen­eral ques­tions like, ‘Oh, how’s the lit­tle one go­ing?’, I’d al­ways an­swer, ‘Ev­ery­thing’s good,’” All­good said. “But in­side, I was burn­ing.’’

From the CT scan, the cou­ple were told by lead­ing Ade­laide neu­ro­sur­geon Stephen San­tore­neos that Jude needed ur­gent surgery.

“In that meet­ing, (San­tore­neos) told us there’s grad­ings: mild, mod­er­ate and se­vere,’’ All­good said. “He said: ‘And Jude has been graded as se­vere and he needs to have this op­er­a­tion as soon as pos­si­ble.’

“He was telling us hor­ri­ble news, but the way he told us was just car­ing.’’

Ur­gent surgery meant All­good needed time away from foot­ball. Time, in a year where he was com­ing off-con­tract, no foot­baller can af­ford.

But All­good pushed ev­ery­thing to the side. The de­ter­mined cou­ple moved to Ade­laide for four weeks, rent­ing an apart­ment a kilo­me­tre from the hospi­tal.

The kilo­me­tre would be­came All­good’s only form of phys­i­cal train­ing he could man­age — jog­ging to and from the hospi­tal in his cargo pants and Con­verse sneak­ers, men­tally drained and ex­hausted, af­ter meet­ings with doc­tors and then with lit­tle or no sleep fol­low­ing Jude’s op­er­a­tion.

TEAM­MATES TOLD

All­good broke the news of Jude’s need for surgery to his team­mates five days af­ter his much-pub­li­cised re­turn to the NRL in round 16 against Mel­bourne in Wol­lon­gong — a 1819day ab­sence from first grade.

Up un­til then, only head coach Paul McGre­gor and the club’s wel­fare of­fi­cers Scott Ste­wart and Holly Scheeringa were aware of what All­good was go­ing through.

Through­out our in­ter­view, All­good and Madeleine re­peat­edly praise the un­wa­ver­ing sup­port they re­ceived from the trio.

It took two at­tempts for All­good to tell McGre­gor about Jude. The first time, the gutsy foot­baller who once went to toe-to-toe with for­mer Manly hard­man Steve Matai was so up­set, he stood in­side the Drag­ons coach’s of­fice just star­ing at him.

“I’ll have to tell you later,’’ is all All­good could muster be­fore walk­ing back out the door.

“I first told the team in the change-rooms be­fore train­ing, five days be­fore Jude’s surgery. It was a very tough con­ver­sa­tion. Just ver­bal­is­ing it made me emo­tional.

“I said, ‘My young fella is fac­ing this and I’m go­ing to be away for a few weeks — if you could all keep Jude in your thoughts’.’’

KISS GOOD­BYE

Jude was op­er­ated on at 8am on that July day. Words don’t come for Madeleine as she tries to ex­plain the mo­ment she kissed her son good­bye in the op­er­at­ing the­atre.

“I was think­ing the worst thoughts that maybe this is the last time I ever see him alive.

“There were vol­un­teers there and they had to pull me away be­cause I just didn’t want to leave him. He hadn’t been apart from me since I was born.

“I had to hold him while they put him to sleep and I just knew that when I was look­ing at him that he was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent when I saw him again.”

The nurses told the cou­ple to take a break out­side or grab a cof­fee down the road dur­ing the five-hour op­er­a­tion. In­stead, they just sat out­side the ICU. And waited. “We sat look­ing at the door,’’ All­good said. When it was all over, re­con­struc­tive surgeon Wal­ter Flap­per ap­peared through the doors.

“I’ve been ex­cited to see peo­ple be­fore,” Madeleine said. “But see­ing him come to the

door, I just jumped d up and I was so ex­cited ed … be­cause he was smil­ing.’’

FRIGHT­EN­ING PRES­SURE Prov­ing just how tough he is, Jude sur­vived the surgery de­spite need­ing two blood trans­fu­sions.

It was only when Jude was in the the­atre room that the true im­pact and fright­en­ing pres­sure on his brain was re­vealed.

In an in­di­ca­tion of how com­pressed his brain had been for the first nine months of his life, the ini­tial in­ci­sion made by sur­geons expanded by a fur­ther 2cm from the nat­u­ral pres­sure of his brain need­ing to “swell.”

Cry­ing, All­good said: “When I saw him that first time af­ter the op­er­a­tion, I just wanted to pick him up, but we couldn’t.

“He was just there, he had all the lines and wires at­tached to him.

“You love your kids more than any­thing in the world and I just felt so help­less.’’

It would be two weeks be­fore Jude was dis­charged from hospi­tal and taken home with his big brother Peter.

FI­NAN­CIAL LIM­ITS The ag­o­nis­ing or­deal also pushed the cou­ple to their fi­nan­cial limit.

“It pushed us to our lim­its emo­tion­ally,” All­good said. “We com­pletely used ev­ery sin­gle av­enue of ex­haus­tion.

“But fi­nan­cially, it has as well. We couldn’t get any more money from the bank or any­thing like that. We bor­rowed money from both our par­ents. Those things you never think­ing of hav­ing to do.’’

As a club, the Drag­ons have been with the All­go­ods the whole way.

A fundraiser for the fam­ily was held re­cently and on­field leader James Gra­ham is about to an­nounce the auc­tion of his 400th game play­ing jer­sey on the Drag­ons web­site.

“I can’t thank them (McGre­gor, Ste­wart and Scheeringa) enough for what they’ve done,” All­good said. “I said to the boys re­cently, I’m so proud to be in­volved with this club.”

Smil­ing for The Sun­day Tele­graph pho­tog­ra­pher Sam Rut­tyn, it’s clear now Jude is such a happy boy.

“This is the first time in his life he hasn’t got a headache,’’ All­good said.

Yet the tough re­al­ity is Jude will need to meet with spe­cial­ists for reg­u­lar check-ups un­til he’s 18. He is not out of the woods just yet.

The All­go­ods spoke to The Sun­day Tele­graph to help raise aware­ness about cran­iosyn­os­to­sis — and to let other par­ents know they’re not alone and there is help.

All­good’s en­tire ca­reer has been on built on turn­ing up, hard work and re­fus­ing to whinge de­spite p crav­ing g much more than the 71 NRL

ap­pear­ances ap­pear­anc he’s achieved so far.

‘MY IN­SPI­RA­TION’

But he h ad­mits now, his drive to suc­ceed succ is some­thing else — thanks thank to Jude. “He just keeps prov­ing provin every­one wrong and keeps de­fy­ing any ob­sta­cle that comes his way,’’ All­good A said.

“I couldn’t give up (on my rugby league leagu ca­reer) be­cause he never gave up. I won’t give up. He was my in­spi­ra­tion. in

“He’s “H def­i­nitely got me back out there.’’ there.’

Wh Which is where All­good finds himse him­self to­day.

Af­ter Aft the most tur­bu­lent year of his lif life, All­good is back in­side the Drag­ons dress­ing-room dress this af­ter­noon at Kogarah Oval in a grand fi­nal qual­i­fier against the New­town Jets.

In the mo­ments be­fore the NSW Can­ter­bury Cup pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal, All­good’s team­mates will psy­che them­selves up with heavy beats and pump-up mu­sic.

In the cor­ner, All­good will turn the vol­ume up on his own head­phones and close his eyes and lis­ten.

It’s the same song he, Madeleine and lit­tle Peter sang each day to their hero in hospi­tal. ‘Hey Jude, don’t make it bad Take a sad song and make it bet­ter Re­mem­ber to let her into your heart Then you can start to make it bet­ter’

m left to right: Jude ban­daged up er surgery; Peter and Jude; Mitch good, Drag­ons tough guy; deleine and Mitch and the boys; ter smooching Jude; the zigzag gery scar Peter asked to be penned his own favourite toy to bond with brother. Pic­tures: Sam Rut­tyn

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