When Tricy and Andrew Blackburn’s son Zach was born they noticed various small issues with his health but it wasn’t until they moved house that the extent of the problems became clear.
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“We moved when he was 13 months old and we got a new health visitor,” Tricy explained. “She measured Zach’s head and as a result we found out that he had hydrocephalus and a brain tumour. The type of tumour that Zach has is very rare but providing it stays slow growing we hope it shouldn’t cause him major issues.”
An undiagnosed genetic disorder is thought to have caused Zach’s health problems.
He has undergone two brain operations and has also been diagnosed with autism and ataxia, which affects his balance. He has the understanding of a six to 12-month-old. Tricy, who also fosters children for Derbyshire County Council, said: “When we found out that he had autism it was huge for us. Zach had a massive regression and lost all his language. He stopped looking at us. It felt like we had lost him completely.”
Tricy and Andrew, an HGV driver who served 12 years in the Mercian Regiment, struggled to cope with the cost of frequent hospital stays and the specialist equipment Zach required. But when Zach was three, an old school friend suggested they get in touch with SSAFA.
Tricy said: “When Christine first came to see me I was pretty much at rock bottom. I was just sobbing. I felt so embarrassed. Christine sat down and went through everything with us and just said, ‘I’m going to do what I can to help’. Just hearing that was such a relief.”
Tricy was virtually housebound at the time because the family needed a special buggy and car seat in order to take Zach out.
“If Zach was having a major episode he would slip to one side in the buggy that we had and he could tip it over rocking backwards and forwards. As a family we have always done things together and been quite active and obviously that just stopped. My daughter is 17. She is old enough to understand and she has been amazing but I know it is very hard on her.”
Christine, a caseworker with SSAFA Derbyshire’s Bolsover Division raised £4,500 to help cover hospital visiting expenses and a family holiday. Funding came from SSAFA, the Royal British Legion, the Mercians and ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity. Christine and her SSAFA colleagues sourced a special car seat for Zach at a discount price and the Mothers’ Union funded a family day out to Drayton Manor Park so Zach could see Thomas the Tank Engine.
Tricy said: “We were struggling with all the expense but Christine managed to secure funding for our hospital trips which has been a massive relief financially. It was £20 a day to park at one hospital.”
As Tricy used to work as a travel agent Christine also contacted ABTA Lifeline who have since raised £10,000 for a special sensory room for Zach.
Tricy said: “We were at such a low point. Zach will never be independent and it’s hard but our faith has been restored through Christine. It just makes things so much more bearable. We have even got some money set aside for a holiday now.
“And because Christine has taken the pressure off us I have been able to start fostering again which I love. I have done it for nine years and I had a good year off because things were so awful. I have been able to go back to something I really enjoy because of SSAFA’s support. It’s been life-changing.”