You wouldn’t know it today, but Jett Davies was born with the “lungs of an 80-year-old man”.
“I am lucky I can do athletics and play rugby league like my idol Jerome Luai from the Penrith Panthers,” he says.
Also, like his hero, he sports long hair that drops down to his shoulder blades. His mother Mel says it hasn’t been cut since he was in Year 2, which makes it all the more powerful that he’s decided to lose it for his school’s Year 6 ‘Fun Day’ this Friday, 24 November.
Via a GoFundMe page in the lead-up and donations on the day, he’s raising money for the place where he spent the first 14 weeks of his life – the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Canberra Hospital.
“At the start of this year, his brother said to him, ‘I’ll give you $200 if you cut off that hair’,” Mel says.
“But he really committed to it about a month ago.”
The Davies family live in Narrandera, a small town about an hour northwest of Wagga Wagga. There are a couple of hospitals in the area, but in 2011, Mel fell pregnant and was referred to Canberra for monitoring several weeks before the birth because she was “too high-risk”.
“I had preeclampsia as part of my pregnancy, so we knew that he was going to come a bit earlier, but we didn’t know how early.”
Sure enough, Jett was born via emergency Caesarean at 32 weeks and sent straight to NICU. He was on and off a ventilator and CPAP machine for 14 weeks.
“He was a bit of a puzzle to doctors for weeks because he just didn’t seem to respond to the treatments like a normal 32-week-old,” Mel says.
Mel stayed in the old nurses’ residences for what felt like an eternity before the family was finally transferred to the Griffith hospital closer to home, only for Jett’s health to spiral again. They were sent to Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney for another few months.
“When we came home the first time, he was just too weak; his lungs didn’t seem to work, and his oxygen levels would go down too low,” Mel says.
“He needed a lot of intervention.”
They returned home for good when he was eight months old, but on the condition that for another 12 months he was on steroids and fed through a feeding tube every three hours. For the first three years of his life, he was tethered to an oxygen machine via a nose prong and a 30-metre-long tube.
“He could still scoot around the house while tethered, and when we would go out down the street, he would have bottled oxygen.”
Times have changed for Jett. Even their local Griffith paediatrician “can’t believe he’s the same baby”.
“He’s an avid rugby league player – a big Panthers fan, and he definitely loves rugby league,” Mel says.
“It stressed me out when he first started playing – I did not sit through months of being in hospital with this kid for him to play rugby league!” Mel says.
“And then in the off-season, he is an athlete – running, and he’s great at discus, he plays basketball, plays soccer, he plays everything. He’s just amazing.”
Jett “hates seeing any photos of himself with his oxygen prongs”, but Mel says now he’s 12, he’s asking more questions about what happened. And despite jovial threats from his teacher about how “if he doesn’t put that hair in a ponytail, I’ll cut it off myself”, he decided on his own accord to lose the hair and raise funds for the place that kept him and his mother alive.
“I guess the point of what we’re doing is that being so far away from home was probably the hardest for me,” Mel says.
“His brother was in preschool and we had just built a house so we had a lot of financial commitment, so my husband and four-year-old stayed at home while we were in hospital and would come up to either Canberra or Sydney on the weekends.”
The family will visit the Canberra NICU to present “a giant cheque” next month, with the manager to allocate the money where it will be most beneficial for others in the Davies’ shoes.
“I’m just super proud of him, and if this doesn’t help anyone else, it will help us in our journey,” Mel says.
And yes, Jett’s brother did put his money where his mouth is and donated $200 to the cause.
Visit GoFundMe to donate.