Little Wings 'a blessing' for Merimbula family

Local families receive help in getting Sydney-based treatment for their children

A free service which flies children and their parents between regional areas in NSW and Westmead Children’s Hospital has been called a blessing by Nicole Cousins, a mum in one of four local families to benefit from the charity, Little Wings.

Mrs Cousin’s son, Ryan was diagnosed with leukaemia in March 2013. She said: “For the first four months we were at Westmead a lot. Little Wings flew us for treatment every two weeks and we would stay there for four or five days.” 

Mrs Cousins said if they had been forced to drive to Sydney it would have taken a huge toll on the family. It’s something that she understands only too well after her youngest son, Reaf, aged three, scalded himself on hot tea two years ago.

With no paediatric facilities locally or even at Canberra, the family had to go to Sydney.

“We had to travel to Sydney to have the dressing changed twice a week for the first couple of months and we had to drive.”

Dad, Simon Cousins said: “They were big days. We were doing the return journey in one day.” 

Reaf still has to visit Westmead and Mrs Cousins said they tried to co-ordinate his checkups with Ryan’s continuing visits. Happily, Ryan is doing very well now, his mum said and only needs to visit Westmead every three months.

“Little Wings made it possible for us to get to and from Westmead. My husband doesn’t have to take so much time off work. It’s just so much more of a relief and much less pressure,” Mrs Cousins said.

Mr Cousins agreed: “It’s made an enourmous difference,” he said.

Kevin Robinson, who founded Little Wings and made the first flight in September 2012 has conducted 27 flights to Merimbula transporting 62 people to and from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.  

Apart from Ryan and his family Little Wings currently flies another three families from Merimbula to Westmead so that they can receive treatment for renal and degenerative diseases without the stress of a lengthy car journey.

Mr Robinson, a pilot since he was 16, runs Little Wings with three other pilots and 10 support staff, all of whom are volunteers. Any money they raise goes towards the cost of running the flights, fuel and aircraft maintenance.

"A lot of families will try and drive there and back (Merimbula to Sydney) in one day if the treatment time is short because they can’t afford to stay, that’s 14 hours on the road or more, it’s incredibly tough.” - Kevin Robinson, of Little Wings

Mr Robinson owns an executive recruitment company and said that he had always supported charities through the business but when he heard about the difficulties faced by regional families as they travelled hundreds of kilometres to have their children treated m, he decided to act. He said: “In talking to Westmead I discovered that 40 per cent of families break up during a child’s treatment for cancer and 70 per cent break up during paediatric renal treatment.”

He said that even the best and strongest partnerships can fail under the financial pressure of time off work, costs of accommodation in Sydney, and emotional strain of time spent apart and long journeys.

It’s not just the parents who feel the pressure either; often siblings miss out on holidays or treats because of the ongoing costs.

A lot of families will try and drive there and back in one day if the treatment time is short because they can’t afford to stay, that’s 14 hours on the road or more, it’s incredibly tough,” he said.

Recognition for his service

Last year Mr Robinson received a Community Leaders Award from Westpac in the Start-up, Not-For-Profit Executive category for an organisation dedicated to community service.

Mr Robinson said that receiving the award was “hugely beneficial” to the organisation which was in its infancy at the time. 

“The children and families we assist are an excellent example of why community leaders are essential to Australia’s social fabric. Without the initiative and vision of community leaders who want to make a difference, these societal needs go unmet,” he said.

Nominations are now open for the 2014 Westpac Community Leaders Awards an initiative that recognises inspirational leaders across Australia who give generously of their time, capabilities and commitment to the social sector to help improve the lives of others. 

Each award recipient will receive financial and educational support valued at more than $12,000. For more information about the 2014 Westpac 

Community Leaders Awards or to nominate a leader from the community, visit: www.westpac.com.au/CLA2014 

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