Digging deep for Dexter

BY anyone’s reckoning, 13-month-old Kiama Downs tot Dexter Heffernan has had a rough start to life.

Now he faces his greatest challenge yet, having been diagnosed with cancer.

Dexter and his parents Andrew and Lenice are currently by their son’s bedside at Randwick Children’s Hospital and staying at Ronald McDonald House as he undergoes tests ahead of starting chemotherapy for liver cancer.

The latest blow for the Heffernans comes on top of a series of setbacks starting when it was discovered Dexter had a single umbilical artery.

As a result of Dexter’s premature arrival (nine weeks before term), he had received only half a dose of the required glucocorticosteroids and his lungs were not prepared. As a result, during his first year he fought pneumonia, anaemia and jaundice and endured ultrasounds, echo-cardiograms, x-rays, barium swallows, enemas, electroencephalograms, milk scans, blood work and endless tests.

When Dexter was four weeks old, his parents were told their son had periventricuar leukomalacia (a form of brain damage also known as PVL).

‘‘Our worlds went into free fall as the news washed away our hopes and dreams,’’ Mr Heffernan said. ‘‘As a result, Dexter now has an official cerebral palsy diagnosis.

‘‘For three months, Dexter lived in the RPA Hospital. For three months, Lenice sat beside him, each and every day. With TAFE commitments, it was difficult to take time off work.

‘‘I couldn’t stay with my son and my wife. Dexter’s fourth month was spent at Wollongong Hospital. Lenice stayed by his side all day. Each night, I finished work and went to the hospital to sit with Dexter.’’

Mr Heffernan said when they could finally bring Dexter home, he had to have his breathing monitored. A week after he came home, he was back in hospital for a hernia operation.

‘‘Finally, we could settle down and love our son,’’ he said.

‘‘Sure, he was different to most kids, but his strength was inspiring.’’

Because of his PVL, Dexter attended regular physiotherapy and occupational therapy. ‘‘We would do exercises with him. He would keep on going even when he was so tired he could barely move. He was a fighter from the very beginning.’’

Just as things were looking up, Dexter’s progress was again impeded with news he had a visual impairment.

‘‘His eyes worked fine, but the pathways connecting them to the brain did not,’’ Mr Heffernan said. ‘‘Some moments he might see perfectly. Some moments he might not see at all.’’

Now as Dexter and his parents tackle the cancer diagnosis, Mr Heffernan said he wanted to be by his son and wife’s sides and Mr Heffernan’s friend Michelle Scotford (Bennett) is determined to make sure that happens by organising an appeal. With the support of Dexter’s aunties, Carol and Terese, ‘‘Dollars for Dexter’’ will culminate in an event at Kiama Golf Club in August.

‘‘Most of the medical expenses are paid for, but I am hoping that we can buy his dad some time off work so they can afford to pay their bills and not worry,’’ Mrs Scotford said. Ms Scotford is also appealing for donations and/or raffle or auction items.

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