By Chelsea Boyle
When six-year-old Eli Honeysett told his parents last April he felt unwell and had a “bit of a wobbly neck”, the couple thought he might have a tummy bug.
But the Kahutara School pupil’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and he was soon left paralysed, unable to move or breathe on his own.
Transported to Wellington Hospital, then flown to Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital, Eli was diagnosed with a rare condition called infectious myelitis.
The condition stops messages from the brain reaching the body’s muscles, but leaves brain function unaffected.
The plucky youngster is still essentially the same kid – he is aware of everything going on around him and is quick to impart his newfound medical knowledge – but Eli knows his muscles are now sleeping.
One year on Eli is yet to return home, despite making progress, but is now back in Wairarapa Hospital after spending 10 months at Starship.
Parents Matt and Tracey Honeysett are determined to bring him home to their Kahutara dairy farm, so the family can all be together under one roof along with Eli’s twin brother Isaac and younger brother Jesse.
“On the Saturday morning he said he had a bit of a wobbly neck,” Mrs Honeysett said, recalling the day last April.
“We went to the doctors thinking it was stomach bug and we didn’t come back for a year.”
While Eli was still talking on the Monday morning, it was getting harder for him to lift his head and he was placed in an induced coma.
He was then flown to Wellington Hospital and then on to Starship.
“It was scary. We didn’t know if he was going to get worse or better,” Mr Honeysett said.
“[When people] stop breathing you never know what kind of damage there is going to be,” he said.
When Eli started to wake up it was an incredible moment for the couple, who knew their son recognised them.
In those early days they relied on Eli blinking to communicate, and as some movement returned to his face he learned how to speak around his breathing tube.
He has made huge progress with his speech and continues to surprise those around him with his fun sense of humour and positive attitude.
“We are really positive there will be more improvements,” Mrs Honeysett said.
“I think he has blown everyone away.”
Eli is a normal six-year-old boy who loves chatting away to his friends, she said.
Mr and Mrs Honeysett said Eli had been incredibly patient, rarely complaining, instead looking forward to the things he would be able to do next in his chair.
“Eli wins hearts over pretty quickly, he’s got such a funny character,” Mrs Honeysett said.
“He loves practical jokes.”
Some of the top consultants would come in to see Eli and find a fake jumpy spider hidden in the bed with him, Mr Honeysett added.
Friends, family and business partners had been hugely supportive of their efforts to bring Eli home.
Some had taken it upon themselves to get the ball rolling with a Givealittle page for Eli and a similar fundraiser has been set up by Mr Honeysett’s family in England.
The couple said they had not asked for money in the past because they had not felt they needed it, but the changes needed to get Eli home were adding up.
The pair were amazed by how much money the Givealittle page had already raised for their son, just over $20,000 in the two weeks it had been open.
“We were absolutely blown away,” Mrs Honeysett said.
“[It’s] beyond anything we could imagine.”
The couple also thanked everyone who had helped Eli with his treatment and ongoing care.
How you can help
Funds raised through a Givealittle page for Eli will go towards a special mobility vehicle able to transport him, renovations around his home to allow access for his chair, and equipment and to facilitate areas for his cares, as well as on-going costs and support.
You can support him at: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/letsbringelihome
Kahutara School have also organised several fundraising events, including a family fun evening on May 12.
Mr and Mrs Honeysett also encouraged people to donate to the Ronald McDonald House, the Westpac Life Flight Helicopter service, and the Starship Foundation.