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Starship touches young lives

By Emily Norman

[email protected]

Ava Saba, a 10-year old Solway Primary School pupil, would not be alive today if it weren’t for Starship hospital.

When she was eight weeks old she underwent a six-hour open heart surgery after she was born with a hole that spanned across all four chambers of her heart.

Ten years on, and the Auckland-based children’s hospital is celebrating its 25th year since it was transformed from a regional facility into a national treasure.

Ava, who has Down Syndrome said she was thankful to the nurses and doctors who had looked after her when she was little.

Her mother, Laura Hutchinson, who works at Pukaha Mt Bruce, said it wasn’t until people experienced Starship for themselves that they could “truly understand how precious” an asset it was for New Zealand.

“Ava had complete open heart surgery,” she said.

“When you think your heart is as big as your hand, just imagine an 8-week-old baby’s hand.

“The way the surgeon explained her surgery was, when they’re really little like that, they take their heart out and work on it on the table.

“It’s pretty crazy.

“But it only takes a couple of hours of being at Starship that you realise what you are going through is nothing compared to what a lot of people there are going through.”

Mrs Hutchinson said some of the memories that stuck with her from the experience included kids riding tricycles down the ward corridor.

“Kids are so tough and they’re so resilient. They heal so quickly it’s just amazing.”

Another Wairarapa mother who stands in constant support of Starship, is Rebecca Shenton.

A picture of Isaac Shenton, 5, one week after diagnosis following surgery at Starship children's hospital. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN
A picture of Isaac Shenton, 5, one week after diagnosis following surgery at Starship children’s hospital. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

Her son Isaac was treated for cancer there from December 2013 to April 2014.

Amid his cancer battle, the 5-year-old died from a rare fungal infection.

“The Paediatric Intensive Care Unit staff were amazing – how they manage to keep themselves together when they are fighting to keep a little boy alive is beyond me, and my husband and I will be forever grateful for everything they did that weekend,” Mrs Shenton said.

She described her son as a bubbly little boy who, on an early visit to Starship, had asked a nurse if there was a hospital on the moon.

To show their thanks for treatment, the family started a charity in honour of Isaac.

“We organise fresh fruit deliveries to the Children’s Oncology Ward at Starship and have a marble themed gift at Christmas.

“We have also dropped off some toys, games, books and DVDs to the Wairarapa Children’s Ward and we hope to continue supporting the local children’s hospital as well as the Starship hospital.”

On the first anniversary of Isaac’s death, Kelly Tarltons Sea Life Aquarium named one of their sharks after him.

“The largest male shark at Kelly Tarltons is called Isaac,” Mrs Shenton said.

“That was his favourite place to go visit.”

Starship foundation chief executive Brad Clark said it was hard to find someone in New Zealand “whose life hasn’t been touched by Starship in some way; whether through family, friends, colleagues or even just hearing heartfelt stories in the community of children in Starship’s care”.

“We want everyone to get involved with our 25th birthday in whatever way you can,” he said.

“If you can give a gift of any size to Starship it would be truly appreciated and help us to look ahead to the next 25 years of caring for children at Starship.”


  1. What these people do to support Starship is wonderful – Fuit is a good source of nutrician and is easy for the children tp eat when not feeling on top of the World. Thanks to Isaac Shenton Foundation.

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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