After almost four years of surgeries, hospital visits and doctors’ appointments, a holiday on the South Coast was just what the doctor ordered for little Mackenzie Berg and her family.
Mackenzie had open heart surgery at just two days old after being diagnosed with DiGeorge syndrome, also known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, a genetic disorder which can cause heart defects, respiratory complications and delayed development.
Her mum, Dani, said ongoing medical treatment, combined with bushfires and COVID-19 restrictions, left little time for a family holiday, so they jumped at the chance to spend a week at the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat (also known as Fiona Lodge) in Batemans Bay.
Mackenzie, her parents Dani and Jake, and her five-year-old brother Harrison stayed at the retreat from 25 April until 2 May, and they made the most of the warm winter weather, visiting Mogo Zoo and nearby beaches.
“It was our first proper holiday since Mackenzie was born. It was amazing,” Dani said.
“I think being there for a whole week really gave us the chance to properly unwind and relax.
“To get that quality time as a family was wonderful.”
The RMHC Retreat has been operating since 1998 and has hosted almost 2000 families from all over New South Wales and the ACT.
The retreat consists of two fully self-contained three-bedroom units located in a beautiful setting for families with seriously ill children to be together while enjoying peace and quiet, and the fresh coastal air.
Dani said the retreat was relaxing and the Ronald McDonald charity also organised activities for the family to enjoy.
“We went out to Mogo Zoo and the kids really loved that,” she said.
“We spent a lot of time at McKenzies Beach and Malua Bay, and just enjoyed being out and about in the outdoors. The weather was beautiful.”
Mackenzie, who will turn four in December, even braved the cold water and caught a few waves on her dad’s surfboard.
The Berg family resides on the NSW Central Coast, and their South Coast getaway was booked months in advance. Dani said they were “hanging out for it”.
“Mackenzie is such a beautiful little girl, but obviously she needs much more than other kids her age, with medical appointments and surgeries. It was really great for Harrison to be able to have that break from our busy day-to-day life as well,” she said.
“It was so good just to be a normal family.”
Fiona Lodge founders Rachel Sweeney and Jim Johns said the retreat was available to the families of sick children and bereaved families.
“The reason the retreat was built in the first place was to provide families going through the toughest time of their lives with a place to get away between hospital treatments,” Rachel said.
“It gives them a chance to reconnect and have a normal holiday without feeling the pressures of hospital visits.”
Rachel said many local businesses, such as Mogo Zoo, offer free admissions to guests.
“Having a sick child is financially tough on families with the medical costs, and often one parent loses time from work to stay at hospital for extended periods,” she added.
During the challenges of the past two years, RMHC ACT & South East NSW has taken the opportunity to internally refurbish the units and are now very excited for the retreat to be utilised to its full potential.
“There are definitely vacancies and we really hope families will come and enjoy the retreat,” Rachel said.
Dani encouraged families needing a break to take a trip to the coast.
“I think it’s an amazing place to stay and caters for families so well,” she said.
“They’ve thought of all the little things, like having board games for the kids to play. We spent so much time doing that. We went to town and bought a game for the next family to enjoy.
“It was so nice having the big living areas and it was just a really tranquil and relaxing place to come home to after a day out.”
The family has stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Westmead three times, and Dani said having somewhere close for the family to stay when Mackenzie was in hospital gave them a “sense of home and comfort”.
“We’ve always known what a wonderful charity Ronald McDonald House is, but it’s not until you need it yourself that you see first-hand the wonderful work they do and the generosity they provide families in need,” she said.
“We are immensely grateful and appreciative of what they have provided us.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities ACT & South East NSW is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing vital programs for families with seriously ill children.
Ronald McDonald House Canberra, the Canberra Family Room and the Batemans Bay Family Retreat provide families with a warm and welcoming place to stay, get support or relax and recharge, while going through the difficult journey of childhood illness.