Brave Little Hank Overcomes Invisible Illness

Cassandra Death’s little boy Hank has had more battles in his young life than most of us will experience in a lifetime.

Hank was born at 12.22pm on October 31, 2018. Unfortunately, immediately after birth, he suffered a massive stroke which left him with a quarter of his brain filled with blood and clots.

“He was having multiple seizures and couldn’t breathe, so the doctors placed Hank on life support right there in front of our eyes,” Cassandra, who is office administrator in CDC Queenland’s Rockhampton office, remembers.

Hank Hospital
Hank during his hospital stay in Brisbane after he was born.

Within hours, little Hank was on his way to Mater Mother’s Hospital in Brisbane. Because of how critically ill Hank was, neither Cassandra nor her husband Aaron could travel with him, so they had to make the grueling 700km drive down to the city from Rockhampton while Hank was transported by Brisbane’s Neonatal Rescue team.

“We didn’t know if he would even survive the flight,” she said.

Hank was in the Neonatal Critical Care Unit for about 27 days, fighting sepsis, a brain bleed, and uncontrollable seizures.

But he fought hard, overcame the odds and is now four-years-old – Mum says he’s doing great.

“He’s incredible, he’s smashing his therapy and is very excited to start prep next year. He also loves his therapy dog Lilly,” she said.

Cassandra said he wears foot braces as he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy because of the stroke, and also suffered bad seizures from his brain injury.

“But he’s the cutest kid, he is so polite and just loves life,” she said.

“We are so proud of him and how hard he works daily just to be able to do the normal things we take for granted. He does weekly speech and occupational therapy and physio, plus we do stuff with him at home – he loves the farm, his pigs and his puppy and his tractor.”

Over the last five years, Hank has raised more than $350,000 through various charities and campaigns including the Mater Little Miracles Easter event, the Children’s Hospital Foundation and he was also the Officeworks “Local Legend”.

“Strokes are invisible. One of the biggest challenges we face as a family is we constantly get asked, ‘he looks so normal are you sure it’s a stroke?’ Yes, we are sure. Unless people see physical signs of disabilities, sometimes people can be quite ignorant to the fact that a normal-looking person may be fighting a bigger battle than anyone could imagine.

“We ask that you take the time to educate yourself and turn the ignorance of invisible illness and disease into a teaching moment,” she said.

“We want to educate as many people as possible and if Hank’s heartache can start a conversation for awareness, then we are happy with that.”

Cassandra said all of those charities helped her family when they were at their most vulnerable.

“Mater Mothers Little Miracles team provided emergency accommodation for Aaron and I when we got flown to Brisbane, the NICCU team organised food and made sure we could be as close as possible to Hank in the very early stages. They gave us space to grieve and resources to help us heal,” she said.

“Their work, along with the Mater, we will never forget. As Hank got older, we then came across the Children’s Hospital Foundation, who are an amazing team of staff and volunteers that run the in-hospital entertainment and kindy rooms.

“They play games with the kids, organise bravery beads to celebrate the milestones for our babies to keep as a memory and are just there when you need. Many times we had the volunteers just sit and play with Hank when five minutes for a coffee or shower.

“They really are life angels and what they offer really does help make the hospital stays much more calming for the kids.”

It’s not just those charities though that Cassandra is trying to support, she’s awaiting to hear what donations the Ronald McDonald House are in need of before Christmas.  

“Between now and Christmas we would love to be able to support another charity extremely close to us that has also helped us along the way and that’s Ronald McDonald House. For the last five years we have stayed there numerous times, whether it be for hospital admissions, tests or appointments,” she said.

“They really are a home away from home and get very little government support so I’d love to be able to gift some items to them for families that are spending Christmas there as we have been in this situation and I’d love to be able to give back the love we received from them and pay it forward.” 

Hank Family
Hank with his mother Cassandra and father Aaron spending time together.