28 March 2019

Viral video celebrates life and reflects on loss following Milton bushfire

| Glynis Quinlan
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The video is told from the point of view of little Latrell Paewhenua who is fighting for his life in hospital. This is a still from the video

The video is told from the point of view of little Latrell Paewhenua who is fighting for his life in hospital. This is a still from the video

A moving video told from the point of view of a premature baby boy fighting for his life is going viral as it honours the firefighters who fought to protect the family’s South Coast home and save their “new beginning”.

The at times gut-wrenching video begins by tracing the story of the Paewhenua family as they tried to overcome the string of personal adversities brought on by the loss of their first son 18 months ago.

Little Harrison died just eight hours after he was born due to a bleed in the brain. His mother, Jemma Paewhenua, developed post-traumatic stress disorder and could no longer run the yoga studio franchise business she had recently purchased.

From there, it was all downhill for Jemma and her husband, Heemi. They were left in a lot of debt and had to sell their family home in Wollongong and one of their cars to pay it off.

With nothing left, they moved to an old caravan next to Jemma’s grandparents’ house on their Milton property on the NSW South Coast – requiring a big change of mindset but proving to be a “safe of healing” for them.

Heemi and Jemma in a happy moment (a still from the video).

Then came some surprising news. “I found out a couple of days before New Year’s that I was pregnant,” Jemma told About Regional.

It was a “magical” experience for the Paewhenuas but there was another struggle ahead. Jemma gave birth to a new little son, Latrell, at Royal Randwick Women’s Hospital on May 28 but he was 11 weeks early and had to battle to survive.

In the words attributed to little Latrell on the video, “I was 610 grams when I was born, but I was so strong and eager.

“So my grandpa and daddy worked so hard to build my bedroom while I fought and fought and fought and fought”.

With two short exceptions, Jemma has spent all her time at the hospital with Latrell since he has been born, often also with Heemi.

However, back on the Milton property, her ‘Pop’ had decided to go ahead with building a nursery for Latrell next to the caravan’s annexe, taking a couple of months to complete it. The “amazing” room had been completed for about two weeks when the fires hit on Wednesday, August 15.

Again in the words attributed to Latrell on the video: “Then disaster hit – over 100 hectares burnt already.

“The firefighters came and found the fire. It had surrounded our home.”

Jemma recalls: “I had a call from my Mum saying ‘What do you need from the caravan? We’ve got to evacuate right now’.”

Jemma’s Pop insisted on staying behind to help the firefighters – who included crews from Long Beach Rural Fire Brigade among others.

“All the bush surrounding the property and neighbouring properties was alight,” Jemma said. But her grandparents’ home, the caravan and little Latrell’s nursery were all saved by the firefighters.

A photo taken of burnt out land just metres from the Milton home which was saved.

Again, in the words attributed to Latrell on the video, “So we want to say a huge thank you to the NSW RFS and everyone else who helped. You didn’t just save our home, you saved our new beginning.

“One last thing, we’d like to say an extra special thank you to pilot Allan Tull (the helicopter pilot who died when his firefighting helicopter crashed near Ulladulla last Friday afternoon).

“My brother Harrison will be waiting for you in heaven to thank you too. We hope that legacy inspires everyone to help others!”

Jemma said that she posted the video on Facebook because she wanted to send a message of gratitude to everyone who has helped during the bushfires and to “inspire more people to do good”.

“There are not enough people celebrating the good,” she said.

Jemma has been pleasantly surprised to see the video take off. In less than three days (since being posted on Sunday), it has already been viewed by 35,000 people and had 730 shares.

Since posting the video, Jemma has met up in person with some of the firefighters who helped save her home and has found out that her message of thanks has also reached Allan Tull’s family.

Heemi and Jemma with some of the firefighters who saved the Milton home and caravan. Photo: Supplied.

“I’ve been contacted by RFS volunteers all over the state thanking me and, their messages consistently say that they never hear about the good that happens to the homes they save,” Jemma said.

“These guys are absolutely amazing and all of them are volunteers. I truly hope that our message has inspired people enough to help others in any way they can.”

Meanwhile, little Latrell is still in hospital but Jemma and Heemi are hoping to bring him home in a couple of weeks.

“He’s still got a couple of hurdles to jump but the doctors can’t believe how well he’s done,” said Jemma.

Now that you know the background, there is only one thing left for you to do…

#This article first appeared on RiotACT

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What a very difficult time you have had as a family. PTSD is such a hard struggle, and I wish you strength and support. Your family sound very caring and supportive. I do hope your lovely baby brings you much joy and healing. I have some special baby clothes I have saved from my boys because I just couldn’t part with the memories. I would be honoured if you would take them, so I can pass on some love to your little one. Please email me and I will bring them to you soon.

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