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Family blown away by community's support after toddler's freak accident

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A Minyama family experiencing a “full nightmare” has paid tribute to the generosity of the Sunshine Coast community for raising almost $100,000 in a week so they can support their youngest child’s long-term medical requirements.

Hayley Rogerson and her husband Kurt Niesler had their world turned upside down last month when their 14-month-old son Rafa was run over by a vehicle.

“It was a freak accident,” said Hayley, who is still emotional when recalling the January 17 incident.

“We are lucky that there is a medical centre on the corner of our street so Rafa was in the hands of professionals super quickly, which I think made a difference.”

Despite the almost-immediate care, little Rafa needed serious medical attention.

He was airlifted to the Queensland Children’s Hospital, where he remains today, albeit in a much better condition.

“He was in the ICU (intensive care unit) for a few days under sedation because the doctors wanted his body and brain to rest, which would reduce the swelling,” Hayley said.

“They then gave him an MRI and that’s when things took a turn … we weren’t expecting such damage to his brain.

“It was a huge shock to us – it was pretty flooring.”

Kurt Niesler, his wife Hayley Rogerson and their three sons – Knox, Bowie and Rafa – just before Christmas last year.

The MRI revealed Rafa had sustained damage to parts of the brain that are responsible for complex cognitive function, speech and the use of the right side of his body.

Doctors expected Rafa to spend four weeks in the neurological surgery ward, but his recovery progressed quicker and he’s now in the rehabilitation ward of the Queensland Children’s Hospital.

“He’s showing such determination and true grit,” Hayley said.

“We are so grateful to everyone at the hospital, from the flight doctors, the nurses, the rehab team and the cleaners.

“When he first arrived at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital I think the whole hospital was waiting for him. Until you actually experience the healthcare system you don’t realise how lucky we are in Australia.”

The family is well entrenched in the Sunshine Coast community – Hayley is a school teacher at St Andrew’s Anglican College, while Kurt owns the Billiard Shop at Kunda Park – and they say the support from friends, family and strangers has helped them get through the ordeal.

A GoFundMe page was created by friend Kim Mackenzie to support the family and more than $98,000 has been raised since it was launched last week.

“There’s no denying that we were extremely hesitant to have a GoFundMe set up for us,” Hayley said.

“We didn’t know if we wanted our story to be so public and for us to be so exposed.

“We are never really ones to ask for help. If I owe someone $5 I want to pay them back straight away.

“It was something we thought very hard about and we talked it through with other family members first.”

Little Rafa was walking at nine months, but hasn’t been able to walk since his accident.

Hayley said the decision to give it the green light was based on her son.

“We want to help Rafa recover and to give him every chance to recover to his full potential … this will allow us to do that,” she said.

“I won’t be working this year and probably not next year, while Kurt is only working a few days a week.

“There is going to be rehab required for years to come and we want to make sure that Rafa is taken care of as best we can.”

Hayley said the response to the GoFundMe page had brought her to tears.

“My focus has been on Rafa, so I haven’t been keeping a close eye on it, but I am quite blown away by the generosity,” she said.

“The only way I can process it is if I try and equate that financial value to people’s love and support, and community spirit.

“There are people from all over the Sunshine Coast who have donated and I’m also seeing names of former students who I haven’t heard from for a long time.”

Hayley Rogerson with Rafa at the Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane.

As for Rafa’s recovery, there is a long journey ahead, despite some rapid improvements in recent days.

“Things seem to be moving a lot quicker than anticipated and we are amazed at how quickly he’s recovering,” his mum said.

“He’s moving his hands and feeding himself with a spoon.

“He can sit on the ground unaided but he’s still quite frustrated that he can’t get up and walk.

“I can see it in his face, he’s like ‘I know I used to be able to walk’ and he’s desperate to try new things.”

Hayley and Kurt said their ability to support Rafa would not have been possible without the Ronald McDonald House, which puts up family members supporting children in hospital.

“If people don’t feel comfortable supporting the GoFundMe, they should definitely consider supporting the Ronald McDonald House,” Hayley said.

“We are so grateful to everyone who has helped us and it would have been so much harder without that support.”

The three brothers – Knox, Bowie and Rafa – in happier times.

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