New Zealand’s only intensive care unit for children has hit peak capacity, with staff working overtime and non-emergency surgeries for the country's youngest patients being delayed.
To help meet demand there are plans in motion for a total $40 million expansion of the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) that would see 10 new beds built in time for next year’s winter, if it can secure the current $8 million funding shortfall.
Meanwhile, unit staff are working hard to service the health needs of the 1.25 million aged 16 or younger, with just 22 beds.
PICU doctor John Beca says for those in need of emergency care its doors will always be open, with staff working overtime to ensure this can happen.
He says the unit has been under growing pressure for the last five years - due in part to a growing population and its increasingly complex needs.
“We have got to the point now, where every two or three days we are full, or very nearly full,” he says. “Most of the time that is manageable, but occasionally we have to make difficult decisions and that might mean deferring planned surgery.”
So far Starship has secured $25 million of Government funding and $7 million in pledges it needs to increase its capacity but needs public support for the remaining shortfall.
Alongside new beds, the funding would also enable the PICU team to offer more family-friendly spaces and training facilities for staff and subsequently improve the experience for the families that go through its doors.
Brooke and Jerry Ama know just how tough a journey through PICU can be. Their first born child, Sophia, was admitted there at just three days old in April 2020.
“Sophia was taken into ICU at just three days old,” Brooke Ama says. “We got told we had a five per cent chance of her surviving the night, and our baby was fully brain damaged.”
Sophia was diagnosed with a rare metabolic condition called Propionic Acidaemia. This meant her body was unable to break down certain proteins, which if left untreated could lead to seizures, brain damage and eventually death.
“It was scary,” Brooke Ama says. “Our walls had come crumbling, it was supposed to be the most exciting time of our life...it was the most heart-breaking.”
She was put on a wait-list for a liver transplant - which can only happen with the support of PICU staff.
“PICU saved our daughter’s life,” she says.
Her husband, Jerry Ama, describes the team simply as “heroes” as the PICU team gave them hope for a future they were once told their daughter might not have.
As they look ahead to celebrating her first birthday later this month mum Brooke Ama says all she hopes for her daughter is a chance at a “normal life”
“To be able to go to school, to be able to go to camps, to play rugby, you know all those normal things we take for granted.”
Donations can be made here or by contacting the Starship Foundation directly.